The excerpt below is from Max Lucado’s book, Six Hours One Friday. As you read it, ask yourself the following questions:
Who accused the woman in the courtyard, and who waited until they were alone to speak with her? Who was the one person who was actually qualified to condemn her, and what did he do? Would this story play out the same way today? I’ll give answers after the excerpt.
“Compare the blind Christ I saw in Rio to the compassionate one seen by a frightened someone early one morning in Jerusalem.
It’s dawn. The early sun stretches a golden blanket across the streets of the city. Diamonds of dew cling to the blades of grass….and a young carpenter speaks in the courtyard……We don’t know the topic that morning. Prayer, perhaps. Or maybe kindness or anxiety. But whatever it was, it was soon interrupted when people burst into the courtyard.
Determined, they erupt out of a narrow street and stomp toward Jesus. The listeners scramble to get out of the way. The mob is made up of religious leaders, the elders and deacons of their day. Respected and important men. And struggling to keep her balance on the crest of this angry wave is a scantily-clad woman.
Only moments before she had been in bed with a man who was not her husband. Was this how she made her living? Maybe. Maybe not……We don’t know.
But we do know that a door was jerked open and she was yanked from a bed. She barely had time to cover her body before she was dragged into the street by two men the age of her father. What thoughts raced through her mind as she scrambled to keep her feet?
Curious neighbors stuck their heads out through open windows. Sleepy dogs yelped at the ruckus.
And now, with holy strides, the mob storms toward the teacher. They throw the woman in his direction. She nearly falls.
“We found this woman in bed with a man!” cries the leader. “The Law says to stone her. What do you say?”
Cocky with borrowed courage, they smirk as they watch the mouse go for the cheese.
The woman searches the faces, hungry for a compassionate glance. She finds none. Instead, she sees accusation. Squinty eyes. Tight lips. Gritted teeth. Stares that sentence without seeing.
Cold, stony hearts that condemn without feeling.
She looks down and sees the rocks in their hands – the rocks of righteousness intended to stone the lust out of her. The men squeeze them so tightly that their fingertips are white. They squeeze them as if the rocks were the throat of this preacher they hate.
In her despair, she looks at the Teacher. His eyes don’t glare. “Don’t worry,” they whisper, “it’s okay.” And for the first time that morning she sees kindness.
He begins by diverting the crowd’s attention. He draws on the ground. Everybody looks down. The woman feels relief as the eyes of them men look away from her
The accusers are persistent. “Tell us teacher! What do you want us to do with her?”
He could have asked why they didn’t bring the man. The Law indicted him as well. He could have asked why they were suddenly blowing the dust off an old command that had sat on the shelves for centuries. But he didn’t.
He just raised his head and offered an invitation, “I guess if you’ve never made a mistake, then you have a right to stone this woman.” He looked back down and began to draw on the earth again.
Someone cleared his throat as if to speak, but no one spoke. Feet shuffled. Eyes dropped. Then thud…thud…thud…rocks fell to the ground.
And they walked away. Beginning with the grayest beard and ending with the blackest, they turned and left. They came as one, but they left one by one.
Jesus told the woman to look up. “Is there no one to condemn you?” He smiled as he raised her head. She saw no one, only rocks – each one a miniature tombstone to mark the burial place of a man’s arrogance.
“Is there no one to condemn you?” he’d asked. There is still one who can, she thinks. And she turns to look at him.
What does he want? What will he do?
Maybe she expected him to scold her. Perhaps she expected him to walk away from her. I’m not sure, but I do know this: What she got, she never expected. She got a promise and a commission.
The promise: “Then neither do I condemn you.”
The commission: “Go and sin no more.”
Who accused the woman in the courtyard, and who waited until they were alone to speak with her?
The Pharisees, driven by their pride, their self-righteousness, and their familiarity with power, dragged her out of bed and into the street, savoring the public display. It was Jesus, the god/man, the only blameless one in the courtyard, who waited until they were alone to confront her.
Who was the one person who was actually qualified to condemn her, and what did he do?
Jesus was the only sinless man in the crowd. Remember what Max Lucado wrote that the woman thought to herself when asked if anyone was left to condemn her? “There is still one who can.” And in reality, he was the only one who ever could. Does that mean no one else could identify sin? Of course not. But mete out the justice? Yes. And what did he do? He did not condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more. That simple. There was no long list of requirements, no “probation period,” no minimum time of proof required that she was worthy. Because, of course, she wasn’t worthy. None of us are.
Would this story play out the same way today?
I don’t know. In this story, Jesus words: “he who is without sin may cast the first stone,” met their mark. As self-righteous and wrapped up in their own religiosity as they were, they did still remember that they were sinners. In that sense, I believe the Pharisees were more like Jesus than many Christians today. Because today, I know more than a few who would hold onto those stones.
There is one part of Lucado’s telling of the story that had escaped me until now. It is this portion:
“He begins by diverting the crowd’s attention. He draws on the ground. Everybody looks down. The woman feels relief as the eyes of them men look away from her.”
And maybe this is a core. The whole reason the men were determined to look at her was because….if their attention was on her, they would not have ponder Jesus’ words too closely: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.