There’s been a lot of verbal stone-throwing in our world lately. Those who disagree with the beliefs or lifestyles of another group don’t hesitate to speak harsh, condemning words, and those with opposing viewpoints are quick to return the favor. Truth and love are lost in the war of words, leaving the world with a skewed perspective of God—some thinking him a hateful tyrant, others believing him a lenient father who smiles and winks when those he so loves do as they please.
In Jesus’ day, an adulterous woman was caught in the line of fire, an angry mob surrounding her, stones in hand, prepared to hasten her death. When Jesus showed up, the mob hoped to trap him in their extremes. Would he grab a stone and hurl it? Or would he embrace the woman’s lifestyle that likely tore families, and her own life, apart?
Jesus catered to no one. Instead, he knelt in the sand and started writing. When the crowds questioned him, he stood, saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he knelt again, writing, as one by one the accusers dropped their stones and left the scene.
What was he writing that so pierced the hearts of the crowd? Many speculate he’d outlined the Ten Commandments, a visual reminder of how far all had fallen equally short. In the end, he stood, telling the woman: “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you.”
Most of us would like to close the story there, defining love by the lack of condemnation. But Jesus went a step further, saying, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He did not condemn the sinner, but he did confront the sin in all its destructive capacities. True, it’s unloving to condemn. Yet it’s also unloving to turn a blind eye when someone’s life choices lead them on a pathway of certain death.
Jesus understood something about the woman, and the crowds so quick to condemn. We’re all yearning: longing for something we don’t have…seeking to fill a hole in our hearts…knowing there has got to be something better. In the midst of our search, we’ve all fallen far short of that which will truly fulfill. To condemn others for seeking to fill their void is to condemn ourselves, for haven’t we all turned to broken cisterns that hold no water? Yet for those who’ve found God alone can fill that void, how very unloving to tell another “go now, do whatever pleases you,” all the while knowing our greatest pleasure comes when our identity is found in our loving Creator.
Note that whatever Jesus wrote, he wrote in the sand. Our self-made identities are not written in stone. We are not defined by our habits. All we’ve done, seeming so worthy of condemnation, is written in sand, washed away by the love of God the moment we choose to turn from the lie that tells us freedom is doing whatever we please to the truth that freedom is found in a life lived for the one who created us with greater things in mind.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” (St Augustine)
Photo Credit: Love Written in the Sand | Flickr by All Things Sprite and Beautiful