We’ve all heard the saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But recently, I’ve been reflecting more deeply on the origins of that phrase. In John 8, we find Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. The scribes and the Pharisees have brought before Him a woman who’s been caught in the act of adultery. They remind Him that according to the Law of Moses, this is a fatal sin, for which the punishment is death by stoning. And then they stand back and ask, “But what do You say?” This isn’t the first time the religious leaders have attempted to catch Jesus in a contradiction, a flagrant violation of the Law, an act of outright religious heresy. And when He doesn’t take the bait, they put it to Him again. Like vultures circling their prey, they push relentlessly, until finally Jesus utters those familiar words: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Scripture tells us that “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one.” (John 8:9, NKJV) With only Jesus and the adulterous woman remaining, He looks at her and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus releases her with the parting words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
It’s easy to look at this exchange as merely a “teachable moment”. We have a tendency to interpret the moral of the story as, “We’re all guilty. None of us can condemn one another because none of us are perfect. We’re all flawed sinners and we’ve all missed the mark.” And that’s absolutely true!
But the lesson doesn’t end there. You see, we must remember that there WAS someone there that day who could have thrown the stone. In fact, it was the the same someone who uttered that phrase which caused everybody else to walk away. Jesus was without sin. Flawless in every way. He could have cast the stone. But He didn’t.
As much as this story is about suspending judgment, it’s even more about the incredible forgiveness of our God. Like the woman, each of us who have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior were, at a moment in time, brought before Him for judgment. Like the woman, we had been caught red-handed in our sin, guilty of the ultimate punishment – death. And like the woman, we experienced the freedom He handed us when He chose to forgive us instead of picking up the stone, and told us through His actions on the cross: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
As Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, we head into a season that’s both joyful and painful, depending on your circumstances. Holidays, homecomings, festivities, fun, love, laughter, are replaced for many by bittersweet memories, by the grief of lost loved ones, by fractures in families, by broken relationships, by job loss or health problems, by anger and heartache. The celebrations can be minimized by the chaos of the season. Tempers flare, and we’re quick to speak without thinking. It’s easy to get snappy with one another (Road rage in the mall parking lot, anyone?!) and to judge each other’s experience.
My prayer is this, not only for the coming holiday season, but for each day: in those moments where we find ourselves tempted to lounge in the seat of judgment toward others, may we remember the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus Christ first showed us. May we realize that He could have “picked up a rock” and condemned mankind for all eternity, but He didn’t. And when faced with the choice to throw stones or to offer forgiveness, may we reflect the greatest act of love the world has ever known.