We have to wonder what kind of fear provoked the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to confront Jesus in this way? To interrupt a couple “in the act” of adultery and drag a likely naked woman out to the crowd. Were they afraid Jesus’ growing popularity would diminish their authority? Were they afraid that this troublemaker, if left unchecked, would give the whole community a bad reputation with the Roman authorities? Were they afraid he was gaining followers for a bloody revolt? Did they think the Pharisee party would lose seats to the Jesus party in the November elections?
I don’t know what they thought. But I’m sure they were scared of something. Scared enough to construct an elaborate plot. Scared enough to treat a woman like mere “collateral damage.” Scared enough to pick up rocks and prepare to heave them at her fragile body.
Perhaps some of the men gathered around the cowering adulteress were wicked people craving violence just for fun. But I imagine that most of them were there because they were scared. I’d like to think that most of them really did not want to throw those stones. Some of them may have seen a stoning before; thrown a rock or two. Maybe aimed a bit short to avoid the sound of rock on bone.
These men do not want to stone this woman. There is tension in the air as they ask Jesus, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
“Go ahead,” Jesus says. And they all tense and clutch their rocks. “If you are free from sin, go ahead and throw that stone you are holding.”
And there is justice. The high and mighty are reminded of their humanity. And they are reminded of the humanity of the one standing before them, naked.
“If you have never sinned,” says Jesus, “–if you are truly, essentially, better than this woman—throw the stone.”
And as the stones fall one by one with a thud on the dirt, truth is proclaimed. Truth, and an odd sort of forgiveness. Forgiveness of self that only comes when we can honestly look at ourselves and then move in a different—a better—direction.
“Any of you who have never sinned,” Jesus says, “go ahead and stone her.”
It’s the oldest, you notice, who drop their stones first. Perhaps because they are the most tired. Perhaps because, after a lifetime of holding a stone poised for launch, they are the most eager for the opportunity to put the stone down. After the tension, the uncertainty, the fear of the readied stone, what peace there must be in just letting it drop in the dust.
I really think that most people want to drop their stones. They just don’t know how. How do you live with other people as equals in a world that insists on ranking everything and everybody? How do you compromise in a world that insists that winning is everything? How do you solve problems diplomatically when talking is seen as wimpy and gunplay as cool?
It feels safer to hold onto the stone—just in case.
But as Christians, we believe that God sent Jesus to show us how to live without wielding stones. How to live out justice, forgiveness, peace—that is the truth Christ taught. And if we are to proclaim Christ in the world, we have help others see that holding those stones poised for launch is no way to live.
But first, we have to let our own stones drop to the ground.
This is adapted from a sermon I preached in 2006.