by Tim Suddeth
In Max Lucado’s Cast of Characters: Lost & Found, he has a chapter about the woman who was caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. It’s a great illustration of the tension that exists between two of our common desires: the desire for justice and the desire for mercy.
The teachers and the Pharisees wanted justice. If they had to live by the rules, well sir, so did everyone else. Isn’t that fair. It’s why we hope the car that zips past us on the highway gets pulled over.
And by the law, they were correct. The penalty for adultery in Israel was death. By stoning.
The woman wanted mercy. She just wanted to get out of there without many bruises. She stood alone among a mob of hostile men seeking a show. Nobody was at her side to encourage or stand up for her.
It was ironic they brought her to the only One who could really judge her. The text said they were doing this to trick Jesus so they could arrest Him.
We like to experience forgiveness, and grace and mercy. But justice and holiness? Let’s slow down and think about that for a moment.
So Jesus said fine. You want justice, he who is without sin, fire away. And He bent down and wrote in the dirt.
Wouldn’t you love to know what He wrote? Sometimes the Bible drives me crazy. CNN would have had a camera focused on His finger. ESPN would have diagrammed it. But John is silent.
Whatever He wrote broke through some hard hearts. Man am I jealous. If I could write like that.
Did the teacher’s trick backfire?
I don’t think so. I think Jesus didn’t play their game but touched their hearts. Coming in contact with the Savior does that.
When Jesus looks up, only the woman is still there. Probably with mouth gaping and stunned at the crowd dropping their rocks and slinking away.
Then Jesus, The Jewish teacher, speaks to her. He asks if they had judged her. When she whispers no, he proclaims neither does he. And she takes her first full breath in several minutes. She’s free. She has escaped. But not just escaped, she has His blessing.
But Jesus has one final comment. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.
Isn’t that the crux of this story. She had sin, got caught, but got away with it.
Except she didn’t. Her sin was paid for by the man who’d written in the dirt.
She didn’t get off, He picked up the check.
We often look to the Law to find the rules that we take for sins. But the New Testament sets the bar much higher. It says that sin is knowing the good you ought to do, but not doing it. (James 4:17)
Do you think the bar is too high for you to attain? You’re right. But remember, you’re not walking alone. And God won’t ask you to do something He hasn’t equipped you for.
A high bar. But with Him who can do all things, our holy calling. What if instead of dwelling on the reasons we can’t, we look for the ways we can?
If this strikes home with you, or you have this same internal conflict, please leave me a message below. And thank you for reading.