How’s that working out for you?
The "go and sin no more" thing?
Because it’s not going so well for me.
I’ve known Jesus for as long as I’ve known my name, and still I use other people like capital to advance my own interest, still I gossip to make myself feel important, still I curse my brothers and sisters in one breath and sing praise songs in the next, still I sit in church with arms folded and cynicism coursing through my bloodstream, still I talk a big game about caring for the poor without doing much to change my own habits, still I indulge in food I’m not hungry for and jewelry I don’t need, still I obsess over what people say about me on the internet, still I forget my own privilege, still I talk more than I listen and complain more than I thank, still I commit acts of evil, still I make a great commenter on Christianity and a lousy practitioner of it.
But Jesus pours out his mercy, staying the hand of my accusers again and again and again. I go, stepping over scattered stones, forgiven, grateful, and free.
I go, but I do not sin no more.
They were doing the “biblical,” thing you know—the religious scholars and leaders who surrounded the woman caught in adultery that day. They probably had Leviticus 20:10 at the ready:
“If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”
They wanted to see if this Jesus fellow who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and who touched the ritually impure, could be tough on sin. So they picked a clear-cut sin with a clear-cut consequence—a biblical slam dunk— and passed around the stones.
“The Bible says we should stone this woman?” they challenged Jesus, “What do you say?”
Would he be so foolish as to contradict God’s Word? It would be the ruin of this ministry!
I wish we knew what the carpenter scribbled in the sand that day. Lists of names? Lists of sins? Something about how God desires mercy over sacrifice? Inscrutable doodles meant to redirect the crowd’s judgmental gaze?
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus finally says before crouching to the earth again, the God who formed us out of dust covered in it.
The gospel notes that it was the oldest in the crowd who left first. They knew.
One by one, the religious elite dropped their stones and walked away. Seems the sinning no more thing wasn’t working so well for them either.
“Woman, where are they?” Jesus asks after they have gone. “Has no one condemned you?”
I imagine she was still trembling.
“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
It’s one of just two times in his recorded ministry that Jesus said this—“go and sin no more”—and I don’t believe for a second he expected this woman to do such a thing...at least not forever, at least not for good.
He knew she was not so different from the religious leaders who surrounded her, not so different from you and I. He knew that hers would be invisible stones, the kind she’d grip tighter each time she saw the man who once shared her bed but not her public humiliation, each time she heard the whispers of her neighbors or the loud, pretentious prayers of the men who had grabbed her and surrounded her and threatened to kill her, each time she heard rumors that the person who saved her would himself be put to death.
She would sin, no doubt.
But perhaps she would think twice before casting those stones. Perhaps she would stop for a moment to consider the irony of becoming just like her accusers.
We tend to look down our noses at these ancient people with their purity codes regulating everything from the fibers in their clothes to the people they touched. But we have our own purity codes these days—people we cast out from our communities or surround with Bible-wielding mobs, labels we assign to those who don’t fit, conditions we place on God’s grace, theological and behavioral checklists we hand out before baptism or communion, sins real or imagined we delight in taking seriously because we’d like to think they are much more severe than our own.
“Let’s not forget that Jesus told that woman to go and sin no more,” Christians like to say when they're afraid this grace thing might get out of hand.
Lord have mercy.
Of all the people in that story, we’ve gone and decided we’re the most like Jesus.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve missed the point.
We’ve missed the point when we quote the Gospel of John like the Pharisees quoted Leviticus to justify a gathering mob.
We’ve missed the point when we use it to condemn rather than convict.
We’ve missed the point when we turn this story into a stone.
UPDATE: I made a few changes to my depiction of Jesus' response to the woman based on Matt's suggestion below in the comment section, which you should definitely read. Grateful for your feedback.
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