(John 8: 1-11)
Stoning for being caught in an adulterous affair seems pretty extreme by today’s standards but that’s the way it was two thousand years ago. Deuteronomy 22: 22 said that if a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and woman must die. In our scripture for today we learn about an instance where the legal experts and the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. They placed her in the center of the group and asked Jesus what must be done with her and pointed out that the Law of Moses required that she be stoned. Jesus saw through their little ruse to try and trap him into going against the Law of Moses. He took a moment, bent down and wrote in the dirt with his finger not saying anything. It appears that they must have thought they had Jesus right where they wanted him, so they pressed him further until Jesus replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” He then went back to writing in the dirt. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders who immediately realized that Jesus had turned the tables on them. Jesus then told the woman that, as there was nobody there to accuse her, that neither does he condemn her and that she is to go and sin no more.
I’d like to think we’ve come a long way in the last two thousand years and that public stoning is all but a thing of the past still practiced or condoned in a very few countries, but we have really just refined the stoning, the public shaming and humiliation. We’ve computerized it. Facebook is the new stoning. From the privacy of your own home, you can get on your computer and, through the use of social media, throw verbal stones at people who have offended your good sense of common decency and morality.
Last Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day where the country observed the work, ministry and sacrifice of Dr. King who ultimately had his life taken from him as a result of his efforts in the Civil Rights movement. Well, not all of America celebrated. Some took to Facebook to vilify the legacy of Dr. King. It didn’t take me long to find a post on Facebook where dozens of people went back and forth regarding the significance of the day and the life of Dr. King. It was brutal, and I finally stopped after I couldn’t read any more. The stones of the self-righteous rained down like a violent hail storm. Some accused him of being a womanizer and an adulterer. Others accused him of being a criminal because he broke the laws that were in effect at the time. Laws designed to keep others down.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Dr. King really did have extramarital affairs. These Facebook stone throwers would have you think that because he was a flawed man, his work counted for nothing. A couple of points worth noting here. Just like in our scripture reading for today, Jesus would say to these stoners to go ahead and throw the stone if they had never sinned and then, without passing judgment, Jesus would tell Dr. King to sin no more and go on about his business. Or Jesus might say what he said in Matthew 7: 3, “why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” Jesus might also say that God has used many flawed people to serve His purpose. He might go right straight to Moses who, in Exodus 2: 12-14, saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Moses was so enraged that he killed the Egyptian and hid his body thinking there were no witnesses. Ironically, the next day Moses saw two Hebrews fighting. He broke up the fight and confronted the aggressor as to why he was assaulting a fellow Hebrew. The man responded, “who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” He hit Moses squarely with that rock causing Moses to flee out of fear of what Pharaoh might do if he found out. Yet we are told in Deuteronomy 34: 10-12 that there was no greater prophet in all of Israel who had done more for his people than Moses. Moses murdered another human being. Or Jesus might point to the great king David who ruled over Israel. David, who seeing Bathsheba bathing on her roof summoned her to the palace and had sexual relations with her. When she became pregnant he granted her husband military leave hoping he would come home and have sex with his wife thereby making it look like the child was his. When that didn’t work, he sent Uriah into battle placing him near the front where he was killed in action. A famous womanizer who played a role in the death of an innocent man. Maybe Jesus would tell them about Rahab the prostitute who lived in Jericho who agreed to hide Joshua’s spies who had crept into the city to gather information for the upcoming battle. When the king inquired she lied to protect and conceal the spies. Jesus might even bring up the stoning of the Apostle Stephen who was stoned without a trial for blasphemy in Acts 7 while Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, stood by and watched giving approval to Stephen’s death. It so bothered Paul that in 1 Timothy 1: 15, Paul referred to himself as the worst of the sinners that Christ came to earth to save.
No shortage of flawed people doing the Lord’s work. But the Facebook stoners will say, but yeah, Martin Luther King broke the law. Technically, he did, but as we saw above these folks broke some pretty serious laws themselves. Interesting point. I wonder what the Book of Discipline says about Civil Disobedience and breaking the law? Well, guess what? Paragraph 164 of our Book of Discipline addresses Civil Obedience and Civil Disobedience in section F, where it says, governments and laws should be servants of God and of human beings. Citizens have a duty to abide by laws duly adopted by orderly and just process of government. But governments, no less than individuals, are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, we recognize the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and, after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforced. We do not encourage or condone any form of violent protest as a legitimate exercise of free speech or civil disobedience. We offer our prayers for those in rightful authority who serve the public, and we support their efforts to afford justice and equal opportunity for all people. We assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by nonviolent beliefs or acts.
I found myself wondering just before I signed off Facebook, how many of these stone throwers claimed to be Christians yet had no problem passing judgment on another human being’s sin and how many of them might have been United Methodists who were engaged in the disrespecting of Dr. King’s right to engage in peaceful civil disobedience.
We need to remember the example of compassion and forgiveness Jesus set with the adulterous woman and the reminder that we have all sinned and have no right to judge the conduct of others. Regarding this incident, John Wesley observed, “by this silent action, he awakened their consciences, and signified that he was not then come to condemn but to save the world. (Note 8: 6) We need to ask ourselves, when others are caught in sin, are we quick to pass judgment? Do we stoop to pick up a stone? To do so is to act as though you have never sinned. We need to recognize our sinful nature and look for ways to help others rather than hurt them. Rather than passing judgment, we need to pass the peace of Jesus Christ.
Please pray with me.
Most loving and forgiving Father, how grateful we are for your forgiveness when we, your flawed children, fail you and act in ways that disappoint you. Keep us mindful that if we don’t rise up and speak out, the chances are that no one else will. Unite our voices so that we may collectively speak with strength and authority as your church to bring attention to the injustices that plague our community, country and world. Engage us in your work to fix what is broken and tear down that which is wrong. Rather than pick up stones to throw at others, show us how to take those stones and make them the building blocks of a movement rooted in peace, love and mercy. In the name of your most precious son, the Prince of Peace and the Light of the World, we pray, Amen.