In ancient Israel, they took the law seriously.
They were privy to the incredible evil that humans had the potential to afflict each other with.
They were privy to the heinousness, the atrocity, the murder, rape, deception and violence that people-gone-wrong could carry out.
And in their law, human life and dignity was paramount.
As an example, they took sexual faithfulness to be so important that if two people were caught in the act of committing adultery, they were to be taken out of the city and stoned.
It feels repulsive, unnecessary, and overzealous.
But despite the harshness, there is beauty in the way they value human life and dignity. In this approach, the prohibitions seems to be meant to warn people of the true cost of their actions. Its goal is actually to protect and to deter people from harming each other.
There is a story of a woman caught in adultery.
Caught in the act.
I can’t imagine that feeling. The shame, pain and regret.
Being dragged in front of your community... The people you respect... People you’ve had over for dinner... Your family and friends.
The religious authorities dragged her to another authority, and said “The law says we should stone her, what do you say?”
A stoning would have contradicted Roman rule, but been in line with the Mosaic Law of the Jews. (worth noting that it actually says that both parties should be stoned).
Jesus said “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Kicking the dirt...
A stone drops.
And soon enough the crowd dissipated, and Jesus found himself alone with the woman that they had brought to him.
And he said “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said “No one, Lord.”
And he responded “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”
And she left.
A crowd, bloodthirsty.
With justice in mind.
A crowd found complicit. Likely not of the same offense, but offending none the less.
And the one who said the sin was treason, offering forgiveness.
The wrong was not softened. The act was not condoned. It was still deserving of death, according to that standard.
But the desire for justice was met with compassion, so that there could be a life lived in the freedom of forgiveness.
How much more is a life that changes worth than a dead body in the street?
The only one able truly able to condemn, the only one with a sinless life, offered himself.
He deals with wrongs that deserve stones by swapping places with offenders.
And to the bloodthirsty crowd, he speaks.
“Who of you will throw the first stone?”
As the crowd, we desire justice. We desire wrongs to be righted. We desire those who harm to face retribution.
As the offender, we desire forgiveness. We desire our wrongs to be undone. We wish that pain that we've caused could be removed.
As frustrating as it is, true justice is difficult to find. No court or system can truly speak to the depths of the wrongs that humanity commits. This is not to say that we should ignore them, or work outside of them, but rather that we are, in many ways, powerless to fully make right the things that are wrong. We can’t raise the dead, or heal the heart of the abused, or undo the betrayal of adultery. And often, if we think we can, we find that even our sense of justice is perverted. Because who are we to throw the first stone? We need one who has lived without sin to administer true justice. While we are definitely called to live according to justice, on an ultimate level making things right is in the hands of God.
Forgiveness is also a difficult road. It's confusing to know how to go about it, especially when the wrongs experienced are profound. We must first receive it, before we can give it.
As we walk, may we both hear the sound of stones dropping one by one, and may the words of Jesus echo through ours.