Portraits of Jesus: Just Mercy

Portraits of Jesus: Just Mercy

Mercy is one of those things in life that we often don’t want others to have but we desperately need for ourselves.

Today we are going to be talking about mercy. Mercy is not one of my strong suits and so if today you feel like I’m calling you out, I’m not I’m just calling myself out.

John 8:1-11 is the story of the woman caught in adultery. If you notice in your Bibles most will have a note saying that this wasn’t in the earliest manuscripts. What this means is that this story doesn’t actually belong in John. It was added a few hundred years after John was written. Most scholars agree that this story happened and was passed down through oral tradition until some scribes decided it belonged in the gospels. Then they chose John for it.

I believe that this doesn’t diminish the meaning of the story. People prayerfully added it to the gospel because God convicted them that it belonged there.

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. Jesus straightened up and asked her,

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

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

John 8:1-11

The first thing that I’d like to point out is that the woman is alone. They say that they have caught her in the act of adultery which as all of us should know takes two people. Yet, we don’t see a man anywhere. They say that she should be stoned because that was the punishment found in the Old Testament law. Stoning was a community execution; it took multiple people to stone them. A community wanted to see one person brought to justice. Yet, here no one seems to want to stone the man who was caught with her. She is just being used in a scheme to set Jesus up. This woman may be guilty but she is also a victim. A victim of zealous religious leaders who don’t care who they hurt, only that they keep their power. Yes, this woman is still guilty, but at the same time we need to show a high degree of compassion.

In our world, all of us are in this boat. We are guilty of sin, we have hurt others, hurt ourselves and hurt God. And at the same time, we are victims. Victims to systems meant to hurt us, victims to people trying to manipulate us, victims to hurt and trauma which we did not choose but has shaped our lives for the worse. We shouldn’t be too quick to judge anyone.

The Romans did not allow special groups to practice capital punishment, that would have to go through a Roman official. So, stoning’s were actually illegal. When the leaders ask Jesus what to do because the law of Moses says to stone her, they are trying to get him to enact Mosaic law which would be treason against Rome, or they want him to side with Rome and denounce the law of Moses which would turn his followers against him.

Jesus doesn’t argue with them. He doesn’t stone the woman. He doesn’t actually say anything. Instead, he bends down and starts writing in the ground. Lots of scholars debate over what he wrote. Some think he wrote the names of the men; some people think he wrote a Bible verse. Others the ten commandments. I don’t think it matters, why? Because it doesn’t say. Instead, what matters is what we read. Jesus drew with his finger. We may not understand that, but first century Jews would. This is a direct comparison to God writing the ten commandments in Exodus

When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone written by the finger of God.

Jesus is basically claiming that he had a hand in writing the law that they are trapping him with. He is claiming to be God, and within that, he claims to carry the justice of God as well.

When they don’t get the hint and keep bugging him he then tells them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” What a statement. Again, he doesn’t claim her innocence. Instead, he makes them reflect on their own lives.

I think a helpful exercise at this point is to reflect on who you give mercy to versus who you condemn. Do the people you give mercy to look like you, are they your age, do they make the same mistakes you made? Do you condemn people who are different from you, people you don’t understand?

So, all of them leave and it’s just her and Jesus. Seems safe right. But the thing is, Jesus is without sin. He rightfully as per his statement can kill her. He could pick up a stone and throw it. But instead, he asks her a question and sets her free.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

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

Jesus is the writer of the law, he is the only sinless one, and yet he chooses not to condemn her. His mercy prevails.

When Jesus says go and leave your life of sin it isn’t a contract, it’s not like she’s on parole. If you sin again, come back and we’ll stone you. Jesus wants what’s best for her. He loves her. His mercy comes from love. His telling her to leave her life of sin is from love. And I’m sure it took time. She probably sinned again. But she also hopefully decided to follow Jesus and asked him to help her transform. Change takes time.

Think of teenagers again. Do you know any teenager who likes being told what to do. If you say “stop doing this”, that is not an effective tactic! Adults get so annoyed at teenagers who just don’t seem to listen or change quickly. But really, to get them to change or see a perspective you need to earn their respect or love. Jesus had sway because he had the woman’s respect, gratitude and love. Fun fact but adults are just big teenagers who know how to do taxes. They are the same in so many ways. Adults cannot stand being told what to do.

We will not be effective if our first priority is to lead people out of sin. Yes that’s important but we will lose them on the way. First, we need to lead them to respect and love God. From there, they will choose to listen to him or not.

Our mercy cannot be a one-time deal. We need to be prepared to offer mercy over and over and over again.

Church on the Rock needs to be a place that welcomes the sinner, accepts the broken and loves the lost. That is our job in Hamilton. That is who we can be. We can reach people to proclaim the mercy of God.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come so they may have life to the full.” Church, we can call people into life with the full. But it starts by putting down our rocks. And let’s keep them down. The church has had them up for too long. The life to the full does not start with the death of sinners it starts with the death of Jesus which makes all of us clean.

Romans 6:6-7 says “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

Jesus died for us so we wouldn’t need to be stoned. We wouldn’t need to be crucified. The death that we get is represented in baptism.

If you are on your way to God know that he does not condemn you. He doesn’t have a stone in hand. His offer of new life does not come with conditions. He wants to give you mercy. He wants to show you all the love he has.