Why am I shocked that Jesus gets the Gospel so right? After all, he is the Gospel. The shock must originate in me: in how far off “my” version of the Gospel is from His. I am prone to get it wrong: either I am too lenient or too legalistic. Jesus never does this. He always gets it right. He shocks me.
There is no story that elicits this shock more than the one where the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They 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 attempting to trap him. He had elsewhere claimed, “I did not come to destroy the law. Until heaven and earth pass away, not a dot will pass from the Law.” Now they had him…
Instead of caving in the face of this implied threat that could (and ultimately did) subject him to death, Jesus said nothing. He “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” This is classic peaceful resistance to the threat of violence: just wiggle a finger in the sand. Impressive, eh?
The scriptures say “they kept on questioning him.” Jesus finally stood up and said to them: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, he bent back down and continued to write in the sand. “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time…until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there.” This was an ultimate “but what about you” moment. In light of their own sins, the Pharisees had no reason to keep pressing for the Law.
I imagine myself in the place of this woman. Like a dead man walking, I was waiting for the hailstorm of bludgeoning rocks. Now the rocks are on the ground and the throwers have all walked away. Jesus has just delivered me. Here I am staring at Jesus with a strange blend of fear, shock and confusion.
“Why did he do that,” I ask myself. Did He clear them out to stone me in dignified privacy? Just me and my Judge? I see Jesus stand up and turn towards me. His eyes are now staring right into mine. Somehow, I know that He knows the truth about me. He knows what I’ve done. There is no getting around it: I can no longer claim ignorance – or innocence. He knows.
I cannot take my eyes off him as much as I want to. Suddenly, a strange calm fills my heart. I sense that He is just – whatever He might do. Jesus finally asks: “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” I respond.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” he declares.
Most of us look at this story as an outside observer. We do not want to be the Pharisee. Likewise, we do not want to be the one religious people target. We depersonalize this story, because we want it to be about someone else. Or rather, we want parts of the story to be about others.
We want to be the one Jesus rescues; the one he likes; or the one he approves of. We want to be delivered from harsh religion. We do not, however, want to deal with Jesus regarding our sin. We want to keep our sin – and claim Christ’s protection in it. He comes to us with the power to stone us and offers us grace. Like an orphan, we grab the candy and run. We miss out on a deeper deliverance (and relationship) that God intends.
None of us are immune to this. We all want grace with no – or minimal – cost. The problem is that there may not be much grace given where the cost is low. Grace is amazing only because we so desperately need it! If we do not desperately need it, we probably don’t really want it either.
As Jesus develops a relationship with us, proves that He is for – not against – us, and demonstrates that He will protect us from those who judge and condemn us, He then disturbs our comfort. With deep love, he stares right into our eyes and says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
“What? Jesus, I thought you were FOR me!,” we mumble.
The sad reality of the human heart is that we all too often receive grace and then turn against God. Recall the parable of the man in debt who was forgiven and released from prison only to go choke another man who was in debt to him. We do this. We want release from judgment. We do not, however, easily let go of our will. God gives grace freely. We take it and then turn around and rob Him.
There are two things Jesus never does: he never abandons the law; and he never allows the law to be used as a basis for abandoning those who fall short of it. He will never allow others to condemn us, but he never allows us to rest comfortably in our sin. This is difficult to accept. We crave one; but despise the other. No wonder it is so difficult to get the Gospel right. No wonder Jesus keeps shocking us.
UPCOMING: When a truth-centric church transitions to social justice, the Gospel begins to swing. While a shift in our posture is needed, the risk is that some will take it too far: a posture shift can easily become a theological shift.
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