Be on the look out for self-righteousness – an all too easy trap to fall into.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees’ motive for bringing the woman to Jesus in our passage this morning was a clear attempt at political entanglement. The woman was brought to a very public place, early in the morning, where Jesus was teaching a large crowd (“all the people”). Let’s embarrass him in public!
Jesus was in a no-win situation – if he agreed with the Pharisees that the woman should be stoned, he would be breaking Roman law. If he disagreed, then he would be seen as ignoring the law handed down by Moses. Either way these ‘self-righteous men’ would have been able to attack Jesus. I think they were feeling pretty good about themselves!
So how did he respond? He bent over and wrote in the sand. What did he write? We don’t know – it could have been a list of their sins, the name of their mistresses or the ten commandments. He could even have been just doodling. Apparently, despite our want to know, it isn’t important in this story, or it would have been written down. I think what is important is that Jesus gave those gathered some time to think.
At first they didn’t take the time – they continue to question Jesus. I suspect they were pretty frustrated that their brilliant trap didn’t seem to be working – they weren’t getting the reaction they planned for: Jesus didn’t even seem upset. He was just writing in the sand. They pushed harder.
So Jesus, as he so often does, turned everything upside down, saying “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And then he seemed to continue to ignore them by stooping down and again writing on the ground.
This time they take the time to think, and in dribs and drabs they leave in reverse order of age. When all have left, Jesus looks up again, asks the woman if there is no-one to condemn her. “No one, sir.” she replies. “Then neither do I condemn you.” stated Jesus. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus silences his critics and demonstrates grace, mercy and forgiveness. God offers all people a chance to repent and begin a new, transformed life. Is there a situation nearby where self-righteousness is rearing its ugly head instead of God’s grace and mercy? If so, pray, asking for everything to be turned upside down and yet, at the same time, made brand new.