The Quality of Mercy (8:30am)
Topic: Judgement Scripture: Romans 12:7–12:12, John 8:2–8:11
This passage does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. At times, it has shown up elsewhere, such as in Luke 21, or later in John. It is said that the story wasn’t included consistently in the Bible until 900 years after Christ. Some present-day versions still don’t have it. The lectionary devotes no Sunday to it, so preachers have to go out of their way to sermonize on it.
Some versions, including our pew Bibles, enclose the entire section in brackets, to indicate its insecure place. One commentator refers to the text as “homeless.” Yet for the faithful across the centuries, it has found a home in their hearts. It is a beloved story. One of its verses has attained iconic status: “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.” Some scholars suggest that it has been periodically suppressed. It seems, to some, a little too lenient on the guilty party…and therefore scribes have taken the liberty of excluding it. Christ’s “Go and sin no more” seems a slap on the wrist. Whether intentionally dropped or not, it has always resurfaced. Some feminist theologians have wondered, “If this was adultery, where is the other participant—the guy?” Is this another case of an age-old double standard for women and minorities?
They have also wondered, “Who determined her guilt, and on what evidence?” Who was actually observing the infraction, and what were they doing there? The story is embraced for the mercy and compassion that Jesus shows to an outcast. She must have been feeling utterly alone in the world. Yet here was a friend. If she had family or children, she must have believed that she would never see them again. She might have pictured them, searching and crying for her. Everyone spoke so harshly to her, yet she felt only kindness from the Lord. “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In his arms, he’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.” She found comfort with the Lord. She found acceptance and love. She had forgiveness from him—no condemnation. She got her life back.
Can we see ourselves receiving that same love? We all have sins, we all have people who condemn and judge us. Even when all others reject us, Christ stands by us. If anyone is feeling forsaken for whatever reason this morning, remember that there is ONE at least who does not condemn, and who loves you with an everlasting love. If Christ is for you, who can be against you? Perhaps he was drawing a Valentine’s heart on the ground, with words inside that said, “God loves you.”
The commentator Frances Taylor shared an insight that hadn’t occurred to me. Not only did Jesus restore and honor the humanity of the woman—he also offered restored humanity to her accusers, in his doodling on the ground. The pause—the awkward silence of his nonresponse—allowed the silence to speak. Their hardened hearts became slightly less judgmental. The awkward pause became a life-giving pause. When Jesus finally did respond verbally, his word—The Word—encountered them. The lynch mob was no longer a mob.
One by one, they walked away. Maybe they left with at least a sense that they were part of the same community as that frightened woman. Jesus hadn’t condemned them, either. He left it open. He left it up to them. “Whoever has no sins, let him go first.” One by one, they shuffled off. In that moment, they were freed from judgmentalism. The Word had done its work.
We all sin, we all stand in need of grace, and we all can receive grace through Jesus. If we discover that we are judging others, we can remind ourselves that we are sinners too.We have been forgiven much—and therefore we can love much. We can more deeply view the other as neighbor. We can ask God’s help to let go of a judging spirit within ourselves. Forgiven and restored, we can more clearly answer our question: “Who is my neighbor?”