Monday, March 7, 2011

Calling Sin Sin

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. the Law Moses commanded us to stone [adulterers]. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him... he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her..." At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time...until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir,” she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin." (for the whole story click here.

To examine the idea of how to, and how not to confront sin let us consider Jesus and this adulteress. This is an oft repeated Bible story today, but more times than not some details are left out; either on purpose or unwittingly to propagate the deception that those who confront sin are unloving and Pharisaical. Those who are fund of using Jesus' words: "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" ironically are not much different than those who dragged the adulteress into the public square because of the similar motivations of their hearts. The Pharisees did so out of a desire to entrap Jesus. In the same way, our contemporaries drag her again into the courts, not because of their love of those who are destroying their own lives along with the lives of their spouses and children because of a sin they are practicing. No, they do so in the name of love to propagate the thinking that nothing should be said or done in opposition to sin.

Interestingly enough, never is it considered that Jesus never said to not stone the woman. To be sure, if there was anyone there who had the ultimate right to do so it was Jesus. But more importantly, missing is a defense by Jesus of the woman's behavior. On the contrary, Jesus admonishes her to leave her life of sin. The most important attribute of this story for many it would seem is Jesus' words: "neither do I condemn you". We are told that this is the true act of love that we should emulate. The problem with this take is that it is simply impossible for us to emulate Jesus here. WE no more have the power to condemn the sinner than to save her from condemnation.

In John 3:17-18 we find perhaps some clarification on this. Jesus says:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Jesus points out here that it was not his mission to condemn. One would presume that this woman was just as much an object of that mission as those who were attempting to entrap him. The fact is that all present, including the woman, were already condemned if they had not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Someone might say that Jesus' loving response would do more to draw this woman to a saving faith than the Pharisees' method of simply pointing out with indignation her sin. But the spirit of our age tends to distract us from a very important point here if we go down that road too far without all the baggage with which the text burdens us. I reiterate here that nowhere in the text is there the slightest indication that the woman had not sinned, or that her sin been renamed as not sin, or that Jesus was OK with it. So the fact that the woman was actually sinning must be a crucial part of our interpretation of this scripture. This truth is perhaps even more crucial in our day because there is a very real tendency to simply rename sinful behavior as either good and normal, or not that bad. At the root of the gospel message is not the message that we no longer need the good news because we have not sinned, but rather that we are in a state of condemnation and are in dyer need of salvation AND a changed heart, and that both are provided. Of coarse many interpret the need for a changed heart as "works" dependent salvation. I address this here

Lastly in considering this text I would like to point out the added caricaturisation that is often implied by "you who are without sin..." This defense often times is a an attempt to make those who call sin sin appear as rabid religious zealots with hands full of stones. Christians should not see themselves as being this caracature. In many cases these words are directed at people who are taking a stand; not taking a stand against any one person in particular, but rather are taking a stand, out of the motivation of true love I might add, against the embrace and exaltation of sins like promiscuity, shacking-up, divorce, homosexuality and of course the golden calf of abortion.

As for me I hate all of these things. I hate even worse that my culture is increasingly embracing them and heaping onto itself increased suffering. I hate this because it is ultimately destroying people. But what breaks my heart mostly is the fact that many of my brethren have been deceived into thinking that speaking out against these things that are so destructive is unloving. The way I see it, silence is the most unloving action we can take.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

An interesting aspect that people tend to overlook is that the crowd said she was caught in the act of adultery. If she was caught in the act, then they knew who the man was, and according to the Law he was also to be stoned. We have to wonder what Jesus wrote in the dirt - did he point out the question of the missing man? whatever it was, it proved their hypocrisy.

Dan said...

The qestion that "caught in act" raises about the whereabouts of the man is an interesting one to say the least. But, in priciple anyway, I think the fact that the whole thing was a scheme goes a long way toward easing our felt need for an answer.

Z said...

I have SUCH a hard time straddling that line of seeing sin and loving the person and being understanding in spite of it and seeing sin and knowing it should not be condoned and shooting my mouth off ....
I think sin should NOT be condoned and it is a sin to allow someone to continue to sin but then I see people coming from love and understanding being very effective in helping sinners, too (i don't mean the kinds of sins we all have, I'm talking about living together out of wedlock, or illegitimate children, or that kind of more serious sin...though our world doesn't see those as sin, does it!)

I also think our churches have sinned in dropping talk about Satan....Lately, I think that he's really busy and our turning a blind eye is a real stupid idea.!