Being Judge

5Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 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, “Let any one of you who is without sin 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. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 7:53-8:11 (NIV)

How easy it can be for a person to judge another person. Whether we know the individual or not really does not matter in many situations. We seem to learn this type of behavior from a very early age. One of the most judgmental and cruel locations in a child’s life is the school playground or lunch room. This behavior is acquired by watching adults in a child’s life. Judging others usually is an attempt to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, a mental game of “I may be bad in (fill in the blank) but at least I do not (fill in the blank) like that one.

Our passage for today is a controversial one. Many ancient copies of John’s Gospel do not include these verses, The debate about the authenticity of the words I will leave for a different discussion. The message is an important one for us no matter how the debate is settled.

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts when Jewish leaders bring an adulterous woman before him. They quote the law concerning adultery and the prescribed punishment of stoning to death anyone who is caught in this sin. The leaders want Jesus’s opinion on what to do with this woman accused of adultery. They are hoping to trap Jesus in his response so they can eliminate him. Jesus attempts to ignore them but since they are unrelenting, he gives them a response. He tells them that the one(s) who have not sinned should cast the first stone(s). Slowly everyone leaves with no stone being thrown. Jesus tells the woman that since no one else has condemned her, he would not condemn her. Then he dismisses her and instructs her to leave sinful behavior.

What a message regarding judgment. We stand ready to cast stones at others, maybe not in a physical sense but instead verbally or by our behaviors toward others. Often we do so without any knowledge or understanding of the individual’s life. Their ability to control whatever we are judging does not matter to us. All that we care about is our dislike or disapproval of whatever we are judging. Yet Jesus’s words echo in our ears, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” We, like the Jewish leaders, must walk away without comment or action. None of us can live up to the requirement which Jesus places before us.

The good news for every one of us is contained in the words Jesus tells the woman, “Then neither do I condemn you.” Jesus could/can fulfill the requirement he placed before the leaders and us. However, he chooses not to exercise his right. The Lord does not condemn us but offers forgiveness because of love instead. The challenge to respond to such grace is for us to leave our sinful behaviors.

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