This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with a local pastor who is quickly becoming a dear friend. We’ve engaged in several discussions concerning the intersection of faith and sexuality as he and his church attempt to appropriately navigate the tensions which often inhabit that space.
We discussed how too often our churches are defined by declarations not only of who and what they are, but who and what they are not.
Churches repeatedly fall prey to our culture of an addiction to answers – exposing the Groupishness I’ve written about previously.
We draw lines in the sand.
As we discussed the work of The Marin Foundation and I briefly described my personal journey in how I arrived here in Boystown, I was reminded of a particular story in the gospels, found in John 8.
It’s when Jesus draws his line in the sand.
It seemed no matter how they tried to trap Jesus, he always managed to weasel out of being embarrassed in front of the crowds.
Attempts by these students and teachers of the law to expose his heretical teachings most often failed miserably. Nearly every time, he would turn their own interpretation of the Law against them, and public support of this revolutionary Rabbi and his gospel of grace continued to grow.
This time would be different. He would have to draw a line in the sand.
They caught her in the act of adultery. She was a home wrecker, the seductress of a married man – a man whom the teachers of the Law knew well. He regularly brought his tithes and offerings to the Temple, and was a gentleman in good standing in the Jewish community.
No one could believe that he had taken advantage of the young girl – even though that’s what she kept saying. She was scared.
Regardless, the Law permitted a stoning. It even demanded it.
And just as their married friend had used her body for his pleasure, they would use her very life to trap this liberal Galilean and turn the crowd against his teachings of grace.
They threw her down into the dirt directly in front of Jesus, interrupting his sermon.
All eyes were on the Great Teacher.
She was crying and whimpering, each breath shorter than the last. The men were smirking.
This time they’d trapped Jesus within the boundaries of the law. The lines of this box were clear. The woman didn’t matter. She was a whore. She deserved death.
“The Scripture clearly states that she should die, Jesus. What do you say?”
The God-man had already gotten on the ground next to the woman, posturing himself in alignment with this sinner. They kept pestering.
‘Well, what do you say? Can we stone her or not!?!?’
Their question was not one of permission, but of partition.
They knew according to the Law of Moses, they could stone her with a clear conscience. That wasn’t the question. The question was, would Jesus approve of her stoning? Or would he again overturn the Law in favor of grace?
They wanted Jesus to draw a clear line – a boundary – between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Between the sacred and the common. The good and the bad. Those that deserved death and those that did the killing in the name of God.
They wanted Jesus to draw a line in the sand.
They had hoped his public allegiance to the law would stop the crowds from following him. ‘In’ versus ‘Out’ was the very same gospel they themselves were preaching in the synagogues.
Instead, Jesus flipped the Law on its head. They should have seen it coming.
He drew in the dirt with his finger – a line. Jesus stood.
‘Whichever one of you has no sin, throw the first stone. Let her have it.’
Jesus then stooped on the ground next to her, directly in the line of fire. He reinforced his line in the sand. If any would be so bold as to throw their stones of condemnation, they would have hit the Master Teacher, too.
The oldest realized it first. Jesus wasn’t going to leave her side, even if it cost him his life. He chose the side of the sinner. The elder dismissively dropped his rock and turned around to walk away. The others, one by one, followed.
The woman’s breathing had slowed down, her tears now falling from guilt and shame rather than fear.
She looked at Jesus, who was helping her stand on her feet.
‘Woman, where did they all go? Didn’t anyone condemn you?’
‘No one did, Lord.’
But what about the ‘go and sin no more?’
Often we quote Jesus’ last words to the woman, ‘Go and sin no more.‘ We use this phrase as an opportunity to pounce upon the person with whom we disagree.
Here’s the kicker, though – Jesus said this after two very significant things took place. First, he risked both his reputation and his life. As a Rabbi, Jesus stopping the stoning of this woman caught in the act of adultery was him essentially and literally allowing compassion, mercy and love to have the authoritative word – even over the authority of the Scripture. He was indeed teaching a New Way – and it could have (and ultimately did) cost him his life. He stood alongside her, risking his reputation by being seen as standing in solidarity with her.
In this way he ‘earned the right’ to speak to the woman. She would listen to the guy who just saved her life by risking his own, regardless of what he believed.
Second, and equally important, before ‘sharing the truth in love,’ Jesus made certain the woman knew that he did not condemn her. ‘Where are they? Didn’t anybody stay to condemn you?!?’ And here’s the punchline :: ‘Neither do I. From now on sin no more.’
It is under the umbrella of protection – in Jesus risking his reputation and even his physical safety – and non-condemnation that Jesus (the only one who could claim perfection and therefore have the ‘right’ to make a judgment call in the first place) speaks the words, ‘Go and sin no more.‘
What about you? Where do you draw your ‘line in the sand’?