Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Gospel Intervention

I think the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a great snapshot of the good news.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

(John 8:3-11)

The first thing a careful reading will reveal is that Jesus never rebukes the questioners in this particular instance. He knows their wrong motivation (to trap him with the question), but their proposed reasoning for the judgment of the woman is sound -- Mosaic law allowed the stoning of adulterers. So legally speaking, the keepers of the Law were well within rights to execute the woman. (One sticky overlap at this time might have been Roman law, though, which may have disallowed Jews the authorization of capital punishment. But for this particular scenario, that historical interjection is neither here nor there.)

What the Pharisees didn't foresee was that the Teacher they were trying to trap was the Giver of the Mosaic law Himself.

Who knows what Jesus was writing in the sand? Commentators speculate. I think one good guess is that he was writing down all those questioners' secret sins. But the passage doesn't say, so maybe I shouldn't either.

What you have on one side of this woman is the Law doing its job and on the other side of her is the Lord demonstrating his authority over it. The point of this story is not that the woman's sin was nothing, or that her sin didn't deserve condemnation, still less is it that she hadn't done anything wrong. Notice that in that last verse Jesus acknowledges she has sinned and tells her to cut it out.
The point of this story isn't even that the Pharisees were hypocrites. (That point is evident in plenty of other stories, though.) No, the point of the story goes like this:

1. Because of God's good law, our sin requires condemnation.
2. Because only one Man is above the law, all of us deserve this condemnation. ("For all have sinned . . .")
3. The difference between the condemnation of the Law and the freedom of the Spirit is Jesus. ("Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.")

To sum up: The Law is good because it is honest about us being bad. The news is good because it sets us free from what our being bad deserves.

So I don't see a lesson about hypocrisy or "casting stones" or anything like that at the forefront of this much-quoted story: I see the Gospel unplugged. I see sin deserving death and Jesus giving rescue. What a great image of our own salvation this story is!

2 Comments:

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Davis said...

Jared,

I really disagree with you here. Jesus does not condemn the woman..in fact he asks, " Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you". The condemnation or not of the sin is not addressed. Also, Jesus by implication rebuked the teachers of the law. We do not know what he was writing in the sand, but it most likely had something to do with their sins..which ended up in him saying..those without sin cast the first stone. That was a direct judgement upon them, calling them hypocrites basically, which also calls into question the act itself, again by implication. WHy would he spare this woman if he were not judging the act?. I do not believe this portion of scriputure shows anything about us deserving condemnation, nor does it show anything about all of us deserving condenmation. It does however show that Jesus does offer freedom from the law in this regard and forgiveness from sins.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Jonathan, I'm not sure you understood my post. Please consider it re-reading it carefully.

Jesus does not condemn the woman

You're right. But I never said he did. In fact, I said that in Jesus there is no condemnation. That was pretty much the point of my post. The Law condemns; Jesus redeems.

Jesus by implication rebuked the teachers of the law.

Perhaps by implication, but it is not directly evident. What I see in this text is not so much a rebuke of their justification (for according to Mosaic law, execution was justified), but an overturning of their motives, and more directly anyways, an exercise of authority over the Law they are trying to enforce.

We do not know what he was writing in the sand, but it most likely had something to do with their sins.

Yes, I mentioned this in the post. Third paragraph after the blockquote.

those without sin cast the first stone. That was a direct judgement upon them, calling them hypocrites basically

I read it differently. Jesus pronounces judgment upon Israel and its official gatekeepers plenty of times, and while anti-hypocrisy may be a valid application of this text, I see it as a Gospel demonstration. Revealing their sin, revealing their condemnation too, he demonstrates that everyone deserves condemnation because of the Law, including the lawkeepers (the Pharisees). This is a practical extension of Jesus' extending things like adultery and murder to include "acts of the heart" like malice and lust in his Sermon on the Mount.

So I don't deny hypocrisy is an implication (see my last paragraph in the post), only that hypocrisy is not the main message of the story.

I do not believe this portion of scriputure shows anything about us deserving condemnation, nor does it show anything about all of us deserving condenmation.

I'm not sure you're getting what I was saying. I'm not saying the passage teaches we deserve condemnation (although we do). I'm saying the scenario reflects at least a right understanding of the Law, which is that under the Law we deserve condemnation. Read the first few chapters of Romans for proof of that.

What I'm saying is that this passage demonstrates that the Law condemns everyone, Pharisee and adulteress alike, but that Jesus forgives.

I hope that clarifies.

 

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