Forgiveness: A Rock Dropped
It was not about the woman. In fact, there was little attention shown to her. They knew where to find her in the act of adultery, and that’s all they needed. But how did they know that? Have you ever wondered? Surrounded by an angry, judgmental mob stirred up by the religious leaders’ shrewd words of disgust, they tried to trap Jesus with Jewish Law: this woman must be stoned. Did they give her time to dress? Did they in any way consider her humanity, her preciousness to God? What fear and pain she must have been feeling? What shame or resignation? And where was the man caught in adultery? There are so many details left out.
But the account was not about the religious leaders catching the woman, it was about them catching Jesus. Catching him in a legal argument that would make him falter, doing whatever was necessary to end his popularity and perceived career.
Preachers, teachers, contemplatives, people all have pondered so many questions about this small bit of Scripture from the Gospel of John (a bit that is not found in the most ancient versions of the text but, wow, does the presence and authority of Jesus wax authentic). There are so many layers to sit with and let Jesus be the one to hurl a stone at our own hardened hearts. Where would you be in the crowd surrounding this woman? Where have we found ourselves standing in righteous judgement over another? What would be our honest-to-goodness emotions in this crowd or similar situations? Would we, have we, had our rock ready?
And what was Jesus doing by being so nonplused by the intensity of the crowd and the energy? Seriously, just kneeling down to guide his finger along the sand.
When I (Jeff) read it, my focus is on the rocks themselves. Hard. Hefty. Hulking. Each stone representing a different type of anger: judgement. “Casting the first stone,” is a maxim known far beyond Christian Scripture. Who is willing to be the first to launch the attack on another? Who is confident enough in their truth or righteousness to begin the end of a life? Who is worthy enough to condemn? “Go ahead,” Jesus says. But he adds, “Let the sinless one in this mob be the first to pitch the rock of condemnation.”
After all the rocks drop harmlessly and the crowd trickles away—all except the woman, a woman loved by God—Jesus speaks to her and challenges her to move forward in life: forward away from sin and into the truth of God’s love. Jesus spoke to her quick, simple words, but words with powerful consequences. It would not be an easy task for this woman to move forward. It’s not a simple task for any of us. But God, Jesus, believes in us and loves us. You can do this. “Sin no more,” he said. The implications are profound and confounding at the same time. Can I really move forward from this? Can I let go of what I’ve done? Of what others have done to me?
There is a darkness, an evil that deceives people into believing we have the right to grab hold of those rocks, and to hurl them. And in the face of this evil, my soul longs for Jesus to come, kneel down, and write in the sand in so many, too many, situations. For He didn’t kneel down to display hate, he knelt to shine an omnipresent and eternal love for humanity.
But my longing is misplaced. Jesus is not needed to come kneel in the street. Jesus did not ascend the throne of heaven to leave us alone and ill-equipped. Jesus is already present. Jesus is kneeling, abiding, in our hearts. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Eternally One. Dwelling within all who receive God’s love through the handiwork of God’s Spirit. It’s a beautiful symphony moving our souls to respond, to kneel for and with Jesus. Now.
And thus begins the beautiful, horrible, hard, loving work of being the disciples of Jesus who kneel, who begin the journey to have hatred in our fists but release it. It’s the journey towards forgiveness and reconciliation.
Over the next few podcasts we will be exploring forgiveness and pain as we continue to live within God’s joy. We (Susan and Jeff) will share some from our own experiences, but we will also be bringing others into our discussion. Our first guest, Debs Irwin—who was born, raised, and continues to live in Northern Ireland—has been a friend of mine (Jeff’s) for many years, and she will share a bit about her life and her understanding and work of reconciliation, particularly within the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.
We look forward to learning and growing with you as we encourage and help each other to drop the rocks, known and still unknown, that we hold in our own hands.