More about the Christian life

Moral Outrage

The story of the Woman Taken In Adultery in John 7:53-8:11 refers to a trap. The trap is this: under the Roman occupation, the power of capital punishment was reserved by the Romans for themselves. All capital cases had to be referred to the Roman authorities and the sentence had to be approved before it could be carried out. So Jesus’ enemies figured they could trap Him in a dilemma by presenting Him with a clear-cut case where the Jewish Law demanded the death penalty by public stoning. If Jesus deferred to the Romans, He discredited Himself as a Teacher of the Law. If He condoned the stoning, the Romans would consider Him an insurrectionist and put Him to death. Either way, they thought, He couldn’t win. He would either lose His credibility or His life; either way, He would be silenced.

At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. A few of the men saw what he was writing and got the idea. They dispatched younger men to go find planks and boards, as well as paint and charcoal to write with. Then they wrote upon the boards and nailed them to sticks. (For Jesus was a carpenter and showed them how to do this.) When they finished this, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is in favor of preserving morality and decency and family values in our society, then follow me!” Again he stooped down and drew a map upon the ground, showing the route to the Roman governor’s residence. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, carrying their signs until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and commanded her, “Woman, come with me!” Jesus and the adulterous woman arrived at the residence just as the governor had come out to see what the clamor was about. “She is an adulteress, caught in the act!” they shouted, “We have a Law, and by that Law she must die!” So Jesus said to the governor, “Sir, make an example of her to preserve the values of our society.” “Have any of these people condemned you wrongly?” the governor asked the woman. “No one, sir,” she said. “Then I condemn you,” the governor declared. “Go now and stone this adulterous woman and end her life of sin!” And with that, Jesus eluded the trap of the Pharisees, by showing them how to fulfill the Law without offending Rome.
—John 8:2-11, Reversed Fractured Version

Many Christians, in fact, entire congregations follow the Reversed Fractured Version in their dealings with sinful people. They think the problem is external. They think their cozy world is being threatened by evil forces from without.This is because their ministers are stern and unapproachable, perhaps, because they do not know the perversity of the human heart or the problems that lurk within their own congregations. I recently had a conversation with a minister friend who had recently had a spate of confessions from members in his respectable middle-class congregation that would curl your hair. Good, upstanding, married, Republican church people, who appear on Sunday in nice clothes and in cozy family groups, are engaged in rape, child molestation, and bestiality! Not a large number, but certainly even three cases involving four people is sufficient to cause some distress. My friend sought counsel with other, more experienced ministers of many denominations, and found that his problem was depressingly typical and that it could be found in any congregation where the ministerial staff is trusted and approachable.

So my minister friend has four “adulterous women” within his very congregation! (Actually, half of them are men.) They attend regularly and contribute money and are outwardly indistinguishable from all the other people in the pews. Shall he take the strategy of the Reversed Fractured Version? Shall he expel them from the church as immoral, or shall he seek to heal their wounds?

Praise God my friend follows the example of his Master, who handles such situations like this:

At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, 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.”
—John 8:2-11, NIV

Look within your own heart and see if you don’t find the adulterous woman within. Then consider how you confront your adversaries on moral and social issues. Should you be consumed by rage and anger and vengeance? Then God will be consumed with rage and anger and vengeance at you, you sinful hypocrite, for:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
—Matthew 7:1-2, NIV

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
—John 3:1, NIV

If you are a slave of Jesus Christ, you will be doing the things that your Master does. If you are condemning the world rather than saving it, whose slave are you?