In John chapter 8, we read a famous story wherein a crowd drags a woman before Jesus. It is announced that she has been caught in the act of adultery. They want to stone her, but demand that Jesus cast the deciding vote.
It’s a set up. They hope that Jesus either goes against the law and can be discredited, or upholds the law the looses his influence with the outcasts of society who have been the focus of his ministry.
Jesus recognizes this and flips the tables in a jaw dropping manner.
First, let’s note that this woman is apparently the first person to commit adultery by herself, as they have have not brought a man to be stoned as well, despite the fact Leviticus 20:10 clearly says both the man and the woman must be stoned. They’re already being hypocrites.
But Jesus doesn’t point this out, because he wants to put his finger on another issue they are choosing to ignore: that under the law, each of them also deserves to be punished.
What this crowd is doing is ranking sins. They have decided that this woman’s sin is worse that their own.
We know this because when Jesus tells them that anyone without sin is free to throw the first stone, they all leave. Every last one.
They each knew that they were themselves a sinner. That they had committed specific actions forbade by God.
But in the moment of bringing this woman before Jesus, they were saying her sin merited punishment while not demanding punishment for their own.
Jesus gave them a choice:
Either everyone gets mercy, or everyone gets judgement.
He clearly teaches this in the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s how Luke records it:
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.
You can give whatever you think is best, Jesus says to the crowd, but know that you’ll be given the same thing.
In that light, the crowd decides mercy to be the only viable option.
We naturally try to rate and score others to understand where we fit in.
Are you better looking than me or not as good looking?
Are you smarter than me or less smart?
It’s why runners stick those distances on the back of our cars - 13.1, 26.2, 50k, 70.3, 140.6
We’re trying to demonstrate where we rank on the scorecard.
Or we put a ‘My kid is an honor student’ sticker on our car because we want to celebrate our kid is smarter than other kids.
Now, I’m not saying that if you have a sticker like this on your car you’re a bad person. Heck, as soon as I can put a 70.3 sticker on my truck, it’s going on there.
I’m saying that we need to be careful about ranking others without seeing ourselves in the same way.
After Jesus leads everyone into a place of mercy and forgiveness, the last thing he says to this woman is, “Go and sin no more.”
His point isn’t “Hey let everybody do whatever is right for themselves. No judgement for anyone!”
When he tells her to sin no more, it’s because he wants her to know God has something better for her than what she’s getting by living however she wants.
“Don’t sin anymore, because you’r missing out on God wants you to have” is what I believe he’s saying.
The crowd demands that some sins need to be dealt with. Jesus is telling them that all sins need to be dealt with, and they can either do it their way, or God’s way.
There is a judgment. But there is also mercy. Jesus wants us to leave the judgment in God’s hands and get busy with the work of sharing the news of His mercy to everyone. Because it is this news which creates a path to a relationship with the God who has no scorecards, only open arms for his beloved children.