This morning we’re going back to exploring one of our church values in some more depth. As a church we value loving God, loving each other, loving our neighbours, celebrating and exploring. Over the next month or so we’re going to be looking at some different aspects of what it means practically to love each other, and this morning we are thinking about forgiveness, and forgiving each other.
In the background to this is the fact that the Bible is one long story of how God reaches out to show love and forgiveness to people. In Genesis 3:15 God gives His first promise of a Redeemer who would forgive the world of their sin. Forgiveness is an attribute of God that we are consistently taught in the Bible that we too can demonstrate to others. And because forgiveness is an attribute of God; the Holy Spirit can enable us to forgive others in a supernatural way.
That’s the background, and the theory, if you like, but I thought we might explore this in a slightly different way this morning, using John’s account of the woman caught in adultery. I’d like to tell the story from three different viewpoints, and see if that gives us a new way in to thinking about and experiencing forgiveness and forgiving.
As I share each of these perspectives, perhaps you might like to be thinking – who does this person have to forgive? What does this person need forgiveness for?
It was a Tuesday, or was it a Wednesday? Can’t remember – doesn’t matter much. Anyway, it was fairly early in the morning, I know that. I also know that it was the day after the end of the feast of the Tabernacles. I’d spent all week in and around the Temple, joining in the ceremonies, and listening to this new preacher from up north, a bloke called Jesus. He’d been making a right rumpus, annoying all the religious types, but there was something about him. I was a bit “the morning after the night before” if you know what I mean, when I saw him, coming down from the hillside on his own, slipping into the Temple. I followed him, what a chance to get some one on one time with him, away from the crowds. Fat chance. I wasn’t the only one to have had that idea, but the crowd wasn’t that big, we could sit round with him and listen to him. I was really looking forward to some quality time, listening to what he had to say in the peace and quiet of the temple.
And, then, there was all this noise. Shouting and screaming, the religious types dragging this half dressed woman with them, accusing her of all sorts, asking Jesus if they should stone her, as the law demanded. I was so angry – angry with them for disturbing my peaceful time with Jesus, angry with her for being no better than she should be, perhaps she did deserve to be punished. Noise outside, noise inside.
And then quiet. It’s like Jesus sucked all the noise away, like a really good teacher at the front of the classroom, his silence made every one else fall silent. He just drew in the sand. And then he said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And went back to drawing. It wasn’t long before people started slipping away. It wasn’t long before I slipped away. I’m no spring chicken, I know I’ve not lived a perfect life.
Who does that Jesus think he is? Disrupting our festivals with his shouting out in the Temple courts during some of the most important ceremonies. Confusing the people, some of them even think he’s the Messiah. As if the Messiah could come from the North! Even the temple guards seem to have fallen under his spell, and didn’t arrest him when we sent them out after him. We had to do something. We had to show the people that he wasn’t to be trusted, that he was a law breaker, who didn’t follow Moses. We had to do something.
It might be a religious festival, but the wine flows pretty freely, and it’s not too difficult to find people transgressing after the parties of the big last night. One of our investigators caught a girl doing the walk of shame early in the morning, sneaking out of a house she had no right being in. Here was our chance – the council gathered, and we had her, bang to rights. No question of her guilt – Moses was clear as to the punishment, she should be stoned. Jesus was trapped. If he’d said that we should stone her, all his words about forgiveness and his hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners would be shown to be all talk. He’d be a hypocrite, and a hypocrite in trouble with the Romans, because only they are allowed to execute people. If he’d said we shouldn’t stone her, then he’d have been denying Moses – a law breaker. He was trapped. Surely we had him. He just drew in the sand. And then he said, ““Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And, just like that, he was out of it, I still don’t really know how. The crowd melted away, until it was just me and him and her. I couldn’t bear it. I had to get away. Who does that Jesus think he is?
I’d had a few, and I know I shouldn’t have, but you know how it is – one thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re trying to make it home quietly before anyone notices you didn’t come in the night before and your bed hasn’t been slept in. And then, men everywhere, shouting, grabbing, pulling. Down the road, towards the temple. Please, no, no, no. Right in front of everybody, made to stand in the middle of this circle of men. The shame of it, I’ll never live this down, I’ll never be able to walk the streets again. If they have their way, I’ll never be able to walk at all, anywhere. They want the death penalty, they think they should stone me. They’re asking this Rabbi what they should do, going on about the law of Moses. I’m in real trouble here. He’s not even looking at me. He’s just drawing in the sand. And then he says, ““Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It was so quiet. Then, the quietest sound. A shuffling of feet. A rustling of clothing. Sandels slapping against the stone pavement, fading into the distance. Then quiet again. I lifted my head. They were all gone. All except that Rabbi, still bent down, drawing in the sand. He stood up. He looked at me. No. He saw me. I knew that he knew. “Where are they?” he asked, “has no-one condemned you?” What could I say? “no-one, sir”.
“then neither do I condemn you” He knew what I’d done. He knew what I deserved. I knew that he knew. He knew that I knew that he knew. But there was no condemnation in that knowledge, just forgiveness. He didn’t even ask if I was sorry.
Was that it? Not quite. He said one more thing. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He knew alright. I guess I’ve got a choice to make.
We all have choices to make. Will we leave our lives of sin, or the sinful parts of our lives? Will we accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers to us? Will we forgive with the forgiveness that we have been shown? These are choices that we have to make every day. We may not even be conscious of making them, but they are choices we make nevertheless. As a church we say that we value forgiving each other, so let’s make that choice together every day.