Our study this week has covered the response of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery, and to the proud people who accused her. In conclusion, I'd like to focus our (mine, too) thoughts on OUR response.
Let's switch gears and dig in!
Most of us are carrying stones in our hands. We're a part of that group, even if we don't realize it, or don't admit it. Come on, be honest. Be ruthless. Don't you see that stone in your hand? I know I see one in my own hand . . .
Jesus understood the people who accused the woman that day. And He sees into our hearts, as well. He knows that we all carry around inside us anger, resentment, and the thirst for vengeance that comes from wanting to believe that somehow we are better than others, or at least better than our honest view of ourselves. We are full of these things because we can't get what we want, and in our frustration we blame someone else.
Ever seen a room full of kids playing with toys? What happens when you introduce one more child into the room? Probably he or she will look around and see (in a room filled with toys) the ONE toy that they desire . . .and it will invariably be a toy that is being loved and played with by another child! Oh, but we're adults, you say. We are above this kind of childish behavior.
Well, why else would there be a multi-billion dollar advertising industry, except that we adults are just as full of desire for what other people have? (Grin) The marketing folks know that we are ruled (many times) by our desires! The talk around the water cooler is about Josh and the fancy red sports car he bought. Or the talk around the fellowship hall table is about the beautiful cruise photos that Marian is showing off. We won't admit to ourselves that the reason we desire a similar car, or the same kind of vacation trip, is that we are green with envy. We want what they have.
Since we can't afford the car or the trip, we may become resentful toward those people. Or toward our life, in which the money doesn't flow as evenly as we'd like. We become angry -- maybe toward those people, maybe just against the unfairness of life in general.
We've picked up a stone.
And most of the people around us are carrying one, too. Even though we don't realize it most of the time, we are angry and resentful. We're preoccupied sometimes with a "they'll get what they deserve" or a "why don't I have that, I deserve it, too" attitude. Even though we'd be shocked and dismayed if we realized it.
How awful it would be if we acted on those feelings! What if we hurt someone else because we want what they have? It's a problem that has existed ever since Cain and Abel had their own rivalry. It's human nature to act as rivals and tear up the bonds of loyalty and of love.
One way that humans subdue those feelings of anger and resentment and rivalry is to blame someone else for doing something wrong. We can punish them or push them out of our lives, and then we feel more peaceful.
But we see it all the time. It's called finding a scapegoat.
From the suffering of the Jews in Germany to the humiliation of this woman in Jesus' time, it is easy to think of examples of people finding a scapegoat, persecuting them, and feeling "holier than thou."
We can imagine the crowd murmuring about the woman that day . . . "I hear she's a sinner;" "oh, yes, I saw her with him, even though she is married;" "I hear her yelling at her husband sometimes;" "I bet she's committed adultery;""the Law says she must be stoned!"
Today, when our desires are escalated by constant advertising, making us feel insecure about ourselves and wanting what others have, there are lots of scapegoats available, and we can place the blame on them . . .welfare cheaters, rich billionaires who pay little in taxes, drug users, people of different races and cultures, young people acting irresponsibly . . .we paint a whole group with the same brush.
Jesus looked into the hearts of the accusers. And He looked into the heart of the sinful woman. He forgave the woman's sin, even before she asked for mercy or even expressed remorse. Then, He told her to sin no more. Why didn't He ask for her to repent? If He had, she might have started looking for excuses for her behavior. (Aren't we all guilty of that.) By forgiving her first, He let it be known that God loves her unconditionally, in her sinful state. So she could acknowledge her sin, herself. We find unconditional forgiveness in lots of scripture passages:
"Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.'" (Matt 18:22)Ahem.
What's the natural human response when someone offends us? Yep, to condemn them. Two things happen then . . . first, this gives rise to hate, which results in either escalating offences against each other, or resolving our conflict by our blaming and then victimising an innocent scapegoat.
Secondly, when we judge and condemn another, we deflect attention from our own contribution to the conflict. While it is often hard for us to see, we are almost always partially to blame when there is conflict that offends us.
The only way to reconcile with our brother or sister without sin is to imitate God's unconditional love, and forgive them. It's more than just talk, or strategy -- it's what our Christian faith calls us to do.
Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are celebrating Lent now. Lent is a time for fasting, for giving-up, for focusing on God. But Isaiah tells us that more than anything else our fasting must restore us to good relationships with those around us. When that doesn't happen he says,
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high. (Isaiah 58:4)
Wow. Isaiah is telling us that God is not interested in whether we give up chocolate or soft drinks or anything else......he is interested in something much deeper, and much more important.
He's interested in our realizing that we have a stone in our hand -- a stone of anger, of resentment, of envy, and it may make us pick out someone to scapegoat and hurt.
He's interested in our learning to accept that God loves us unconditionally, and that we need to unconditionally love others.
He's interested in our learning that the stone we carry in our hand is like the yoke that Isaiah wrote about:
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in. (Isaiah 58:9b-12)
Is there a stone in your hand? I found one in mine.
Can we drop them?