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Read John 8:1-11.

What happens (the mechanics of the trap): This woman is a test. She is not the real issue. They have asked Jesus, the Rabbi, for a ruling. They want him to be the judge and they will execute the sentence. They think they have him in a no-win. They aren’t interested in condemning the woman as much as they want to condemn Jesus (who threatens them).

They’ve asked Jesus to rule so he does. His rule is this: Execute her according to the law. You do it. But here’s the one condition – You have to be without sin and perfect to throw the sin. You have to be perfectly righteous. You must be like God to throw the stone.

Are we that good? Maybe not perfect, but might be better than some.

The woman caught in adultery is a sympathetic figure. It’s fairly easy to say that we are not any different than her. “ There but for the grace of God go I.” We can feel for her.

But what about unsympathetic characters?

Are we that good? Maybe not perfect, but might be better than _________________.

I must confess that I think I might be able to pick up that stone. Even if I didn’t throw to kill, I would like to throw to hurt. Just something to balance the scales. Isn’t that justice? There is a moral outrage at people whose inability and inconsiderate sense of boundaries (compulsions) hurt all of us or the innocents.

Yes, some of them are hurt and have been hurt. Some are victims, but how do we tell them to stop. How do we tell them that if they do not stop then the community is going to punish you. The law was meant to put boundaries on society. There has to be boundaries. If we don’t, then we will just destroy each other.

Does the Scripture really say that all sins are just alike? If we can make a distinction, then why can’t God? It does no good to read this text and hear, “That when I jaywalk or tell a white lie, then I am just as bad as greedy corporate thief, the murderer, or the child molester. We recognize the difference between misdemeanor and felony. Doesn’t God? I just don’t think it makes sense to level out all sins so that one is just the same as the other. I would rather you jaywalk than steal my retirement. I would rather you tell me a white lie than hurt my family.

This scripture is not about flattening out sin (misreading). This scripture does not communicate the message that one sin is as bad as another. This scripture says what Paul said in Rom 3 – all have sinned. This teaching is saying that there has to be a different way that saying, “We’re not perfect, but we are better than _________________.”

Jesus is confronting all of us with the reality that each of us must be born from above. We have to convert to an entirely different way of living and not just a religion that adapts to our view of the world.

The no-win situation is not Jesus’ trap. The no-win situation is our condition when we are without God. Everyone wonders what Jesus drew in the dirt. I wonder if he drew a line. His line was a false boundary and what he intended was for those who thought they had the sufficient righteousness to judge to stand on one side of the line and execute all those who didn’t meet up. (You must be this righteous to throw a stone.)
Jesus is showing us our inattention to redemption and our mixed up definition of righteousness. If that’s the way we encourage righteousness then we will end up with two people ready to throw huge rocks at each other. We are bad judges.

This text has had an impact on society. The fact that we have some sympathy for this woman is evidence of this. We are gracious with those who are judged and tagged with a scarlet A.
But how much more does this text need to shape us?

Two ways to hear the text.

  1. Are you burdened with a sin so detestable that you cannot even stand it? You might be so immersed and trapped in it that it has become a way of life. I doubt this woman intended to be a prostitute and adulterer. No one ever intends to do that. Structures and circumstances lead to it. But that’s not an excuse. Go your way and sin no more. Legend has it that this woman was Mary Magdalene. That’s probably not true, but why is that legend so captivating. Probably because we want some closure. We want to know that this woman that Jesus saved lived out that salvation. That would be a good end to the story.
  2. For others, the word is, put the rocks down. What are we defending? What are we threatened by? Those who came to him for a ruling didn’t really want it. They just wanted to assert their way of the world and their definition of righteousness. They are threatened by the implications of his honest truth. Let the judge of all the earth do right.
But that means that unjust people are going to get way with their sin. Right, and that’s always been the case. The only thing guaranteed is that there will be justice at the end of time.
Let’s strive for redemption.

Put down the stones, go, and sin no more.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 March 2009

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