They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8: 6-11, NIV
Things aren't always what they seem. Take the text from John 8 as an example. Like many other Gospel passages there is an occasion that prompts a response from the religious people who opposed Jesus. In this instance it is the woman caught in adultery. Some commentators believe this woman was actually Mary Magdalene, the woman of the night who became an ardent follower of Christ. The profound teaching about casting the first stone is one of the most repeated lessons from our Lord's earthly ministry. It would be easy to see this woman as the central character is these verses, or the religious leaders who accused her and tried to verbally trap Jesus. Over the centuries analysts have wondered about the male counterpart to the sin, who is not mentioned or referenced. And, of course, what Jesus wrote or drew on the ground has been a point of debate among Bible students at every level of study. They are all interesting elements in the passage, additional details we'd like to know. They remind me of our human tendency to lose the moment by chasing sub-plots not central to the lesson. The truth of this lesson surely flows in several directions. This text, however, is about Jesus and the mission the Father had given him to finish.
John's Gospel is clear about opposition to Christ and a mounting movement to kill him. Throughout the first sixteen chapters of John are numerous references to their efforts to silence or restrain him. As early as John 5 is the note "For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him..." (John 5: 18, NIV). Each instance was in response to the miracles and teachings Jesus did in fulfilling his mission to finish what the Father had given him, the encounter with the adulterous woman being one of many.
There is also the recurring theme of his hour in John's Gospel. Jesus was keenly aware of the appointed time of his passion. Over and over he reminded his followers a variation of the truth that "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4, NIV). In each instance he spoke or took actions to delay or restrain his opponents designs. Jesus was modeling a step to the finish line, that is, his hour of death and passion. He was demonstrating for his followers the step of perspective, stepping back from the explosive moments in order to fulfill God's eternal plan at the appointed hour. What a power lesson for us humans. We have the capacity to, using a military metaphor, die on the wrong hill. It's one of the reasons many of us cannot finish what we start. In many decisive moments we act before we have comprehended the entire picture.
The step back occurs when we move away from an explosive situation so we can
process the scene, evaluate what is actually happening, and determine a best course of
action to the moment. It is gaining perspective.
Christ modeled the step of perspective in many ways. During the interchange with the religious leaders and the woman caught in adultery Jesus wrote or drew in the dirt. What he scrolled in the dirt isn't critical to the situation or our understanding of it. He was clearly weighing the moment. His comment shifted their accusing eyes from the woman to themselves. They left in silence. Then he addressed her sin. On other occasions he answered their clever verbal queries with his own questions or expressed silence in response to their tricks. After feeding five thousand men the people threatened to take him by force and declare him to be their king. Of course, it was not his hour. So, he withdrew to a mountaintop by himself (John 6: 15).
The step of perspective is essential in dealing with the many obstacles to reaching the finish lines in life. We humans have a sinful nature that distorts our viewpoint on just about every interaction or crisis. As believers we should, according to this new self God created in us, seek the viewpoint of heaven when making decisions, settling disputes, planning movement, or defining service. How many times have we misinterpreted a series of actions and responded in an inappropriate fashion? Or, circumstances when our quick-draw tempers have fired unnecessary shots into others? The step back can give us a new vantage point on any troubling or puzzling dilemma. Rather than walking away from the relational and cultural complexities of exponential times the step back may give us fresh insight and new angles on the people and events that confuse and disappoint.
That may be the power lesson James wrote about---"My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires" (James 1:19-20, NIV).
Monday, 4. The Step Aside: Discernment.
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