The Ultimate Challenge

The Ultimate Challenge

John 8:1-11

Jesus is on our side in our sin and in our mistakes and with Jesus on our side with our family here in Church, we can do it. We can pick up this challenge that Jesus places on all of our shoulders. And in doing so, we can spend eternity with him in heaven.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen. Please sit.

Once again in our gospel we see the returning message of Jesus offering a second chance. And in fact, that gospel we had not very long ago about the tree not producing Holy fruit and the gardener coming in and saying, the owner of the land saying, Take this tree down, throw it out. And the gardener say, no, dig around the roots and put some manure in it. That’s at the heart of Jesus’ message of another chance. And here we have another example of that message of that teaching from Jesus, a second chance.

But it goes deeper in this reading, and I wonder where you put yourself when you read it? Do you see yourself as Jesus? Do you see yourself as the scribes and the Pharisees? Do you see yourself as the woman accused? Perhaps you approach this reading in a different way, depending on how you’re feeling and what kind of week you’ve had.

But it is a good way to get into this scripture. It’s interesting and very fruitful to consider all three of these perspectives when reading it. So I encourage you to take your Pew sheet home this week, as I do every week, but to read this gospel again and put yourself in the position of each of the three protagonists.

So first of all, we’ll start with the scribes and the Pharisees. Everybody’s bad guys in scripture.

They are trying to lay a trap for Jesus. They’re trying to lay a trap for this rebel, this man who is attempting to usurp their authority and their power. He is teaching against what they are teaching and he is causing a rabble. He is causing disunity between the comfortableness that the people in the temple have achieved with the Roman order. And of course, on the face of it, there is no right answer to their accusation.

They bring the woman in, she’s been caught in adultery. There’s no question about whether or not this has taken place. She’s been caught in the very act. That’s the wording that’s used. So Jesus, they present this to him as the scribe [rabbi], which is very normal, very usual, that’s what would have happened.

And the Rabbi, the teacher would then say, this is the way to deal with it. But he’s in the temple in Jerusalem under Roman occupation, there is no right answer, because if Jesus says she must die as per the Jewish law, she must be taken to the gate and stoned. That is what Moses taught. Then he will be breaking Roman law. Because the Romans didn’t allow the Jewish people to cast death sentences on their own.

They had to take people to the authorities. So if he condemns her, then he is no longer the man of love and mercy that he has been purporting to be over the previous three years.

So which way does Jesus turn? I can see the Pharisees rubbing their hands at this plot they’ve devised. I imagine them sitting there waiting for somebody to get in trouble so that they can pull this person before Jesus and trap him and get him locked up, preferably by the Roman Empire.

The thing about that is it’s not really about Jesus and it’s not about God, and it’s not about following the law. They don’t care about following the law. What they care about is their power and their authority. And they use their power and authority to punish and they use their power to maintain their authority through fear. There’s no mercy because mercy marks you out as weak.

Power is exerted through unrelenting authority and pushing down of the people. Jesus, of course, is turning this on its head. But the real issue here is not the misuse of power, sadly, which we see all too often. But it is the fact that they saw the woman as nothing more than a thing, a tool that they could deploy to catch Jesus out. She was nothing to them.

She was less than nothing. She was just happened to be in the right place at the right time for them to deploy in their power games. And that lack of seeing the humanity in this woman is ultimately what leads to their downfall. This lack of being able to see her as a person is what leads to their downfall.

People are complex. Lives are complex. We are never in a position to judge. How many times does Jesus tell us this? How many times in scripture do we come across it in Matthew alone? Do not judge lest you be judged.

Do not attempt to remove the speck from another’s eye while ignoring the log in your own, and so on and so on and so on. This is a consistent message of Scripture. The Pharisees are cruel and they see nothing but their own ends. It’s very easy to never read this scripture from the perspective of the Pharisees, but I suggest you do because it will help you run it against your own life and see where perhaps you are treading into the path of being a Pharisee and a scribe.

Well, let’s take it from Jesus perspective. The second perspective, how does Jesus react when this accusation is first made? Better than me, that’s for certain. I wouldn’t react in that way. Jesus does nothing. He just continues writing on the ground and he forces the Pharisees and the scribes to make their accusations again once really.

It is an interesting piece in the scripture here Jesus kneels down and writes on the ground, and in English, it doesn’t quite carry the meaning of what Jesus is doing. Of all translations, funnily enough, it’s the Armenian that makes it most clear. Jesus is writing the list of the sins of those who are making the accusations. He is writing in the ground, the deeds, the sinful deeds that those who are making the accusations have committed. That’s what he’s writing on the ground.

And so he actually gives the Pharisees and scribes a chance. He doesn’t dismiss them out of hand. He doesn’t get upset, which is why he’s far better than I am. He gives them a chance to reconsider what it is they are doing, because he has been teaching this. He has been teaching, do not judge, lest you be judged.

So he gives them a chance. He kneels down and he writes it on the floor. He gives them an opportunity to go, oh, hang on, I need to listen here. But they don’t take that opportunity. They don’t take that second chance.

They plough on regardless. He makes them ask the question again, but they persisted. And so Jesus turns the whole situation around, not falling into the trap. Jesus never falls into the trap.

Okay, he says, stone her.

Wow, the Pharisees and the scribes must have been, we’ve got him. Not because he was agreeing with them, but they caught him in the trap, stone her. And then he adds, that wonderful codicil. But let any one of you without sin cast the first stone. And he returns to writing their sins in the ground.

Ah, now it’s rather more personal, isn’t it? Jesus has taken the abstract idea of the Law and made it very, very personal. He has made it human. He has made the woman in front of them a whole being in front of them. And he’s made it an individual, personal thing.

Let you, who is without sin, cast the first stone.

So now each one of them must look at their own sins and decide whether or not they are so sinless that they can cast the first stone, cast the first stone. And of course, they all left. They were ashamed and they left.

Jesus sees through the plan and makes the whole situation human. And about your own relationship with God.

So when we’re reading scripture and we’re reading it through the eyes of Jesus, what can we do in our lives when we approach these situations to handle them differently?

He turns to the woman and he says, has no one condemned you? He says, Neither do I. And that’s the present tense. What Jesus is saying, I do not condemn you now, there will be judgement at the end of days, but I do not condemn you. Now.

And then he says, the single most challenging thing in this entire piece of scripture, the line that stands out greater than anything else, because it is a call, a clarion call to all Christians. And he says, go and sin no more.

That is not being let off. That is no light relief. He has just placed on the shoulders of this woman an enormous challenge. It’s a challenge that we all face in this moment. We are all this woman, go and sin no more.

It is a challenge that we all readily accept. Because it is offered in mercy and love. You will be judged by God at the end of time. But Jesus gives you chance after chance after chance in this life to get it right.

It should ring in our ears as we leave Church today, as we walk out into the world, go and sin no more, picking up that enormous challenge that Jesus issues this woman. And so we turn to this woman whose name we don’t know no more than we know the names of the Pharisees or the scribes. So now this woman is a living, real person for us, not some abject argument in a complex piece of Law.

And we view the Scripture through her eyes. What must she be feeling caught in the very act of adultery, an act that has no other judgement than death.

In fact, there are three different ways that this woman could have been killed. But stoning was the one that she was going to face. This is precisely what happened. This woman thought that she was going to be stoned, that death awaited. She was being used as a tool of a plot, adding insult to injury.

Then she finds herself stood in front of this man who offers her hope of a better life, a new start, and a second chance. She walks away, relieved. She has escaped, but she escaped because she was claimed by the love and mercy of Jesus. And so now she faces a choice. What will she do with the love that Jesus has just shown to her?

I imagine the woman walking away from this situation, frightened, scared, maybe, alone in the world, huge relief washing over her, but only really realising what Jesus had done for her some time later, when the adrenaline had washed away and she found herself sitting quietly on her own. Only then in that peace does she see what Jesus had done for her – relief and then realisation of the great task that he has placed on her shoulders.

This gospel teaches us how we approach the wrongdoings of other people. It teaches us from three different perspectives. It teaches us that when we come across people who have done things that are wrong, that are bad, that are unacceptable in whatever way we want to measure that, then our first reaction in those moments should be to take a moment, take a breath, give that person an opportunity to rethink what they are doing. The second is to take pity on the person who stands in front of you, not to condemn them, but to offer them a path to forgiveness. Just as Jesus does with a woman, just as Jesus does with the Pharisees and describes.

And the third element is always challenge. It’s not easy and it will take a lifetime. But this is the pattern of how we engage with those who have done wrong. It’s why anybody can walk through those doors who has done anything. We will bring them into our family.

We will take a moment. We will have pity on them. We will not use our power and authority to squash them. We will not condemn them. We will offer them a path to forgiveness and we will challenge them on how hard and difficult that path is before them.

Jesus is on our side in our sin and in our mistakes and with Jesus on our side with our family here in Church, we can do it. We can pick up this challenge that Jesus places on all of our shoulders. And in doing so, we can spend eternity with him in heaven.