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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Condemn the Sin, Forgive the Sinner

I have no interest in condemning people. However, I cannot be so compassionate that I fail to stand for what is right. Standing for what is right means declaring some actions are wrong. Thus, I would loathe to be on a jury that condemned someone for a heinous crime but I would be under obligation to do so. I must have compassion in the middle of recognizing the crime as wrong and being a part of justice.

Jesus has a woman brought to Him on a holy day. It was the seventh day of the Feast of Booths. It was a day of rest. This woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers said that she was worthy of stoning as given by the Law of Moses. They wanted to know what Jesus would do. (The first WWJD?)

The acts of these men were obviously a test for Jesus. He had, no doubt, been preaching compassion, forgiveness and love for others. It was highly popular given that the preaching of scribes and Pharisees who thought that the only justice was hard and unforgiving. Adultery was something that everyone detested. Jesus would be hard pressed to deny the Law of Moses.

Yet, the sentence for this transgression was almost never enacted. It required that both guilty man and woman be stoned. The law required that a careful trial must be held in which both parties are allowed to confess their sin. These men have not followed the law themselves as they bring this woman to Jesus.

The teaching of that day was that guilt would also be applied to those who knew of a sin but did nothing to correct it. In other words, these men must have known this sin was to be committed if they caught the couple "in the very act." Thus, at least some of these men would be as guilty as she and the unknown partner in this sin.

Also, the definition of adultery at that time was contingent on her relation to another man rather than upon the man who committed the adultery with her. She was either engaged or married. It would not have been considered adultery if she had been a single woman no matter what the condition of her partner.

The scribes and the Pharisees would have known this law. They, supposedly, kept the law meticulously. Yet, their desire to test Jesus brings them to their own condemnation.

Jesus ignores these men and writes on the ground. This was a holy day. The law was clear that even two letters could not be written except in the dust on a holy day. Jesus clearly knew the law.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what Jesus wrote on the ground. I would like to offer a suggestion.

Jeremiah 17:13 (ESV)
13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. 

These scribes and Pharisees were rejecting Him. They lacked forgiveness. They lacked compassion. They even lacked adherence to the law. Their act of bringing this woman before Him proved the condemnation of their hearts. They had humiliated her by bringing her into the public and placing her in the middle of their group.

The blackness of their hearts was a rejection of Jesus. This is the real reason that we must forgive others. Our relationship with Jesus must always result in forgiveness.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

The lack of forgiveness is a rejection of Jesus.  Did He write the names or the sins of the scribes and Pharisees on the ground? I don't know but I lean toward their names since their names were not written in the Book of Life.

However, I do not believe that Jesus simply glossed over this woman's sin either. Forgiveness is not permission to sin. He tells her that she should not sin an more. Of course, this is an impossible command if He meant that she will never commit any sin. He must be telling her that adultery should never be listed among her sins again.

This may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but realize that the religious community was just as most churches are today. People will talk about the sins of others. Especially those sins which they have not committed. The story of her sin spread like wildfire. Her husband or betrothed would have heard if he had not already heard. He would most likely put her out. A rejected woman with such a reputation would have very few resources to make a living. The best option of the day for such a woman was prostitution. Jesus own words of "sinning no more" would have prevented this profession. Her life would be hard.

So, Jesus forgave her but did not permit her to continue an ungodly lifestyle.

Thus, I must do the same.

John 8:1-11 (ESV)
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] 

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