Day 04 Devotional & Discussion – March 8, 2014

John 8:2-11

A woman is caught in the act of adultery.  There are witnesses.  It’s an open and shut case.  And the sentence is clear—death by stoning.  But Jesus doesn’t distribute the stones.  Instead, he advocates for mercy and second chances. 

When have you wanted to pick up stones?  How do you react to Jesus’ treatment of the criminal?  Do you think Jesus would have reacted differently if the person had been a drug dealer?  A burglar?  A man?  An abusive spouse?  How does this passage challenge our system of justice?  What do you think would happen if we treated people this way in our courts? 

There will be no devotional for Sunday, March 9.  Devotionals will resume on Monday, March 10.

4 comments

  1. Like the Cain & Able story, I feel there is a lot more I’d like to know about this passage. There is part of me that thinks it might not be an open and shut case, evidenced by leaders walking away without dealing out punishment (perhaps Roman law superseded their own in this case?). There are many questions I have:

    – Because this story is not in the earliest manuscripts, is it reliable?
    – How did the leaders intend this situation to be a test for Jesus? Did they feel he was a radical to the point of advocating not following the Law, and thus they suspected he would give this criminal mercy so that they could charge him with blasphemy? Did they want to see if he would honor their Law above Roman law? Vice-versa? Seems it had to be something like that.
    – What was he writing in the dirt and why? I’ve heard he was writing out their sins, leveling the playing field. Maybe he was writing “love your neighbor”, thus indicating God’s heart for mercy? We can only speculate.

    But maybe none of that matters. As I’ve been typing, deleting, retyping, I find myself wrestling with wanting to make this story about a lady that was falsely accused, maybe even set up, so the leaders could get Jesus to slip up somehow. And yet at the very end, Jesus says “Go and sin no more.” She was a sinner. In the end, if reliable, it is a story where a God-given law was broken, a God-given punishment was applicable, and God incarnate overturned the punishment, arguably at great personal risk.

    I’m still on this penitent thing, though. It is very easy for me to read penitence into the lady’s response, but it is not explicitly there. So I don’t believe I have a case to say that Jesus was merciful because the lady was penitent. But I have to admit a personal struggle with the application of mercy to the impenitent.

    I love how Jesus reacts. Over and over again in the Gospels, he is astounding in his simple, yet genius, way of doing pretty much anything. I don’t think Jesus would have reacted differently whether it was a drug dealer, etc, because his reaction was primarily, it seems to me, to the leaders. All things being equal, if the leaders brought any kind of criminal to Jesus, I suspect his response would be similar. Looking at the situation with the two thieves on the cross, though, we see a contrast. Two thieves, one penitent, one mocking. It is only to the penitent one that Jesus says “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I find that to be instructive.

    I think our justice system needs to have a healthy dose of mercy, but I think it is best to have that mercy connect with penitence, restitution and recovery. I can’t say that I know enough about the justice system to make any kind of evaluation about whether or not it is merciful enough. What I have been learning through this compact, though, is that there are serious concerns about a lack of mercy.

  2. I know there are lots of people who do not believe this story was in the original manuscripts, but that’s not so important to me. The story is consistent with Jesus’ actions toward “sinners” throughout the gospels–something I’m sure we’ll read more about in the coming weeks.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Joel’s concern about penitence and that it is easier to dispense mercy in the face of remorse. That is, I believe, what separates the Christ-followers from others. Anyone can be merciful when someone is asking for mercy, but it is a work of the Spirit to show mercy in the hopes that the offer will be transformative in the lawbreaker’s life. There are no guarantees. However, the offer of mercy reminds the person that we believe (to quote Bishop Desmond Tutu) that “no one is beyond redemption.” Our current practices toward lawbreakers and felons offer no hope for redemption and reconciliation–only the prospect of punishment. If there are no second chances, no space for instructive correction and no restoration to the community, then we have communicated that we do not believe that people can change–a belief not shared by Jesus. We have chained them to hopelessness.

    1. I totally agree with and love the application of mercy. But does a distinctly Christian response require that the mercy come before a penitent response? Would the cycle of crime – punishment – restitution – mercy also be consistent with a distinctly Christian response? Jesus was rarely merciful with the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

      I think that the above cycle could actually be done as an act of loving mercy. I’ve been recently discussing a similar situation related to the workplace. A friend of mine has a coworker that, simply put, is doing next to no work because she has a personal relationship with the boss’s wife and knows she is practically unfireable. She is committing a crime of sorts in the workplace, and she is getting lots of mercy. She is riding that mercy all the way to the bank. I agree that she is not beyond redemption, but I think that a pink slip will be the means of starting that redemptive process.

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