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Saturday, 30 May 2020

Let Him Who Is Without Sin...

Jesus was sitting at the Temple grounds, teaching the crowds surrounding him. Presently there was a disturbance as a group of Pharisees were dragging a desperate woman towards him, kicking and shouting as she struggled to break free.

Jesus probably glanced upwards with the thought, Oh dear, here we go again - and began to write on the dust. What he was writing, nobody knows, and we still don't know to this day, as the Holy Spirit did not feel it was necessary to tell us. The group then stood before Jesus as he sat there with his finger continuing to write. Then one of the Pharisees, sensing the Lord's apparent apathy or disinterest, began to present his case with urgency, accusing her on how she was caught in the very act of adultery, and asking whether she should be put to death, as the Scripture says. The rest of the crowd who was listening to Jesus turned with anticipated excitement combined with a sense of shock of certain execution taking place right in their midst.

Instead, Jesus kept on disregarding the woman's accusers as he kept on writing (or maybe, doodling.) As the leading Pharisee kept up with his accusations, Jesus could have asked about the whereabouts of the male lover, if she was caught in the act, and why he wasn't with them, being dragged alongside with her. After all, it takes two to tango. And I wished he had asked that! It would have been interesting if the accuser had to answer. Thus, the story was lacking much for it to make proper sense. 



The accusing Pharisee still had a valid point. He was referring to Leviticus 20:10, where it says that if a man lies with another man's wife, then both must be stoned to death. Therefore, where was he?

And after a period of provocation by the accusers, Jesus finally looks up and answers:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

This story is recorded in the first eleven verses of John, chapter eight. In the KJV, it's included in the normal flow of the script without any gaps or comments. In the NIV, a note is inserted in the interruption preceding the text, explaining that the earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this portion, followed by a lined space preceding verse 12. The RSV goes even further, omitting the story altogether and inserting it as a page footer with a suggestion that it might have been a fragment taken from Luke's Gospel. 

But whatever its origin, the inspiration behind the story is obvious enough. It's history, on the same level of truthfulness as the Crucifixion itself. And within the last few weeks, more than once have I seen the answer Jesus gave to justify the deeds done by our political leaders.

It can be controversial, this idea of letting anyone who is without sin to throw the first stone, that is, to execute judgement. Really, how far can this be taken? Yet I have had those words thrown at me on Facebook whenever an issue was raised. Yet, if I was to take the Lord's words literally on all levels, then would our Law Courts cease to exist? Would all inmates be freed and all prisons closed? One night a burglar breaks into a house and makes off with jewellery which has sentimental connections as well as a high value in price. The victim goes to the Police to report the crime and to get justice. Only to be told that the Law will only act on his behalf if the victim can prove that he's without sin.

Doesn't make sense, does it? At first, this looks totally unjustifiable. The householder whose jewels were precious to him suffers a terrible loss, while some stranger is going to sell the stolen items for personal profit. Indeed, any reader would instantly comment that the two offences are beyond comparison. But are they really that incompatible? 

A woman commits adultery. If the punishment for this offence is taken from Old Testament justice such as Leviticus 20:10, then the woman was already married to someone else, hence the seriousness of the sin. Her husband would have felt cheated, and now has to endure a terrible loss and enforced widowhood. The loss felt by the husband of his beloved would have been just as intense as the loss of precious jewellery, maybe more so, as the wife is of one flesh with the husband and close to his heart. I could even go as far as the possibility of him ready to forgive, as was the case of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who brought back home his wayward wife, but the original letter of the law forbids this. Instead, she has to die, along with her lover. And in this case, with Jesus, the lover must have either done a runner or was told to escape.

But the chance of the cheated husband feeling enraged could have been equally possible, and his wishing for an act of quick revenge would have remained unfulfilled with the Lord's willingness to forgive. It may not have been the loss of jewellery irritating him, but having been cheated, the loss of justice and the greater likelihood of forbidding her to return home. On the other hand, by recognising who Jesus is, he might have also forgiven her and took her back in.

With such complications surrounding the incident, I have come to conclude that this was a unique, one-off occasion with the dual purpose of getting her accusers, all of them religious, to see sin lurking within their own hearts and that forgiveness is available to them too if they believe that this particular man is their Messiah, the Son of God. Even if the origins of this story has been questioned, no doubt, it teaches a valuable lesson, and that is, to believe that this Jesus - the one sitting at the Temple and writing on the ground - will be their risen Christ, from whom acquittal will be granted to all who believe.



Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, an instance of instant retribution is dished out to a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the Holy Spirit, Acts 5:1-11. The church in Jerusalem was in a crisis and a decision was made by its leaders for anyone to contribute financially towards it. We are told that Barnabas sold his field and willingly gave all his proceeds to the church elders. And many others all made similar donations by selling off what they had and laying the money at the apostle's feet. Then came Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They too sold their field but afterwards agreed between themselves to give only a portion of their money and keeping some back. That in itself isn't bad. They were free to keep back all they had. All was purely voluntary.

But instead, they gave only a portion and then declared that this was the full price gotten for the sale of their field. When Peter revealed their sin, they both died instantly, the husband first, then his wife three hours later. It's a far cry from the fate of the adulterous woman brought before Jesus, and for a crime which, at a human point of view, looks far less severe than committing adultery. It does look as if administering justice was not abolished by being aware of universal sin lurking in the heart.

And Romans 13:1-7 endorses this. Here, Paul gives the very reason why governments exist and why we are encouraged to obey all in authority. Governments are there to keep evil in check and to ensure the best administration for the country, province or territory. And the apostle warns that everyone who does evil will need to be in fear of them, as they are the authority appointed by God to bring justice. Likewise, those who do good can receive praise from the same. And that was written long after Jesus dealt with the adulteress.

However, although both Paul and Peter have encouraged all Christians to honour and obey the king, ancient history tells us that the Roman emperors were some of the evilest men who ever walked the earth, guilty of murder, adultery, even incest and paedophilia, so the story goes. Nero, for one, is reputed to have killed his own mother, Agrippina, to secure his own independent power. Yet Christians in his day, under the apostles, Paul and Peter, were exhorted to give honour to the king and to obey the laws of the land.

Therefore I need to ask: Was I wrong to raise the issue about our Prime Minister when his suitability for the job was under scrutiny? And that with his life history tainted by more than one divorce and at present, had just fathered a child from his girlfriend half his age? One friend answered back:

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

And that was posted to me by one of our ex-church leaders.

It's well known that the one who posted that statement was a devout Brexiteer, and our Tory PM Boris Johnson promised: "to get Brexit done" as his last election manifesto. This makes me wonder whether our Facebook friend would have posted the same statement if our PM had been a Labour leader who pushed hard to remain in the EU and had, in the past, walked out of his wife and family to date a female half his age. Indeed, would he had picked up the stones then, or simply walk away like those Pharisees did?

And now, over the past week, this scandal over Dominic Cummings. He is the PM's chief advisor who played a major role in Brexit and he was also behind the Coronavirus lockdown, insisting that we all, as a nation, to stay home, stay safe and respect the NHS. According to the Press, Cummings was attending meetings held behind closed doors alongside our top scientists in putting together the appropriate action for tackling the pandemic.

Then, after the edict was passed and endorsed by our Government, faithful people stayed at home and stopped visiting their family members living elsewhere. This included hospital visits, care home exclusions and minimal funeral attendance. We were also banned to drive miles to national parks and other popular venues. One dog walker was stopped and reprimanded by the Police for walking his dog in a remote area of the Peak District National Park. Other motorists, on their way to the coast, were forced to turn and go back home, on the orders of the Police.

Yet, Cummings drove the 264-mile distance from London to Durham to sort out a family issue. He then drove a further 30 miles to Barnard Castle "to test my eyesight." If he was unsure about his eyesight whilst on that leg of the journey, how did he manage the 264-mile trip in the first place with his wife and son?

Tie-less advisor - Dominic Cummings. 


During the debate which followed, a poll revealed up to 52% wished for him to leave his post as Advisor, whether by resignation or by dismissal by the PM, and the remaining 48% insist he should stay. From the 48% who thinks he should stay in his job, a quote appeared on Facebook, posted by a journalist in full support for him:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

That was aimed towards all those who felt judgemental towards Dominic Cummings. As for me, I have become fed up with the issue. If he goes, then let him go. But if he wants to stay, then let him stay - but with much discredit to his advice. But with opinion split almost right down the middle (the same result, by the way, with the 2016 referendum whether to stay in or leave the EU) - I can't help but believe that the majority of pollsters who voted for Cummings to remain in his post were Brexiteers, and those who want him out were mainly Remainers, although there is an area of grey in between.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Okay, I have been reprimanded. Let me stand back and just allow matters to take their course.

After all, God is our sovereign Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, to which we all have to give an account. I'll trust in Him. 

4 comments:

  1. Hi Frank, just read your blog with interest. One thing this week I have spent a lot of time pondering over. Like you I have heard it said, 'Let Him who is without sins cast the first stone'. What I cannot get to grips with, is before Jesus said this did the woman caught in adultery repent. There is no mention of this in the bible passage. For there to be forgiveness, surely a person has to repent. As far as I can tell, Mr Cummings showed no sign whatsoever of remorse or repentance. Therefore I have great difficulty with accepting this argument that people are forward. In this world if we commit a crime then we have to face our punishment, if caught. Try asking a policemen if he has ever broken the speed limit if he stops you for speeding.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Reader,
      Thank you for reading my blog and I thank you for commenting.
      To answer your question,
      going by the context of the story of the adulteress, she did repent but only after Jesus has forgiven her. It was his forgiveness that brought repentance. Up to then she was in terror of her death, and she was expecting Jesus to pass sentence.
      Today, repentance is brought by first hearing the Gospel, then if the hearer changes his mind and believes, he will be acquitted and reborn. That is the meaning of the word "repentance," from the Greek "Metaneo" - a change of mind.

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  2. Dear Frank,
    Thanks as always for an excellent and thought-provoking post. Jesus and Paul knew we are all sinners and in need of governmental authority, whom we are to respect and obey unless their laws conflict with God's law. I believe that the whole incident was a setup by the Pharisees to force Jesus into a corner. How else would they have been able to catch her in the act? For all we know, it may have been a rape with the Pharisees waiting to drag off the victim and allowing the perpetrator to escape. Had Jesus advocated letting her go unpunished, they could have accused Him of blasphemy. Had He ordered her stoned, it would have undermined His ministry of love and compassion. Instead, I believe His comment was His subtle way of letting them know that He was on to their scheme, and of course, a reminder for each of us to leave the judgment to God.
    God bless,
    Laurie

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  3. Hi Frank,
    there is no one who does not sin in this world, and that is why Jesus was sacrificed. The ability to become a child of God only came through His sacrifice. All who believe in Jesus, the Word of God, have to learn God's ways through that Word which is given to each of us daily according to what we need individually. All the stories that are contained within the Bible are there to help us in our journey to the promised land, and can reflect our actions to us.

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