A lot of people have misguided ideas about Jesus, not least that he was ‘meek and mild’ – weak, passive, submissive; floating around doing good here and there, before finally ending up a victim. None of these ideas is true.
Jesus was a man… but also, in equal measure, God. And the God of the Bible is not weak, passive, submissive or a victim. This is a God who is powerful, who takes action in people’s lives, and who’s firmly in control. So we should expect to see these characteristics reflected in his son.
We also need to bear in mind that Jesus is the only person who ever walked the earth without ever sinning. This absolute understanding of what was right and wrong must have made it very difficult for him to encounter sin all around him on a daily basis.
Jesus also knew exactly what was pleasing to God, and what wasn’t. He often came into conflict with the religious authorities of the day, many of whom took it upon themselves to judge others as if they themselves were God. Which really irritated Jesus.
The book of John tells us about when a group of such religious leaders—teachers and a group of people who strictly observed Jewish law, called the Pharisees—brought in to the temple a woman who had been caught in adultery. Such an offence, under Jewish law, was punishable by stoning.
Jesus was teaching in the temple at the time. The Pharisees asked Jesus what should be done with the woman: they knew that Jesus was gaining a reputation for doing things ‘differently’, and they wanted to trap him into publicly disregarding the law. They thought this would give them a chance to reveal him as a charlatan, blasphemer and law-breaker.
But as they goaded Jesus again and again, he simply bent down and wrote in the dust with him finger. Eventually, he said: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they drifted away, the older ones first, until only the woman was left. Jesus simply told her to leave, and to stop sinning.
The passage is an important one. And we shouldn’t underestimate the ‘row’ that this incident caused, even though Jesus never raised his voice and the Pharisees and teachers did little more than repeat their questions. Incidents such as this one (and there were many in the same vein) led directly to the plot to have Jesus executed. They led to the split between Judaism and the new religion, Christianity.
Before this incident, right at the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, he warned that he would be doing things differently. That sermon would have surprised his audience greatly. Yet he also said in that sermon, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
To Jesus, fulfilling the law was not the same thing as ignoring or overturning it: it was about revealing the true nature of God. A God who is gracious: anxious to pour out his love and kindness on those who least deserve it—which is not just the woman caught in adultery, but every one of us.
Jesus didn’t condone the woman’s sin; he told her to stop it. But he was loving and kind, not cruel or vengeful. He was a pure reflection of his father.
Pray: Lord God, sometimes it's easy for us to burn with a sense of what's right and wrong, and to point to the rules and become all self-righteous. Help us to remember that, while your rules do matter, people matter even more. Help us to reflect your grace, love and kindness, just as Jesus did. Amen.
Think about: There's a common expression which goes: "Hate the sin, love the sinner". Do you agree with this expression? How does it match up with this story?
Challenge: Over the coming weeks, whenever you encounter something you think is wrong, ask yourself if you have the right to throw the first stone. The Pharisees didn't throw any stones, they they didn't say anything to the woman, or do anything for her, either; they just walked away. That's not what Jesus did. So if you don't feel you can throw a stone, what can you do, in the situation you encounter, which is more loving and gracious?