John 8:1-11 finds Jesus faced with a challenge. Religious leaders bring a woman they've caught in the act of adultery. We know this because they literally tell Jesus she was caught in the act. This wasn't gossip or rumored affair. Someone literally went to wherever this act of adultery was happening and witnessed it and then dragged this woman before Jesus.
I'm not going to lie, just the first few verses of this story make me angry. Furious, in fact. For a variety of reasons...
- These religious leaders were so serious about someone else sinning that they had to literally seek her out.
- Where is the man in this situation? It takes two to tango, eh?
- The self-righteous manner in which they approach Jesus with this woman, believing they've put him in his place.
This story illustrates one of my favorite aspects of Jesus, though. When confronted like this, Jesus doesn't fall into a trap of trying to give a systematic answer to debate the religious leaders. Instead, he kneels down and begins writing something in the sand at his feet. We don't know what he wrote, but it is believed that he wrote the sins of the men who were ready to stone this woman. He then said some of the most powerful words spoken in Scripture: "He who has no sin can cast the first stone." And one by one, they dropped their stones and left until it was just the woman before Jesus.
We realize, after Jesus says this, He is referring to Himself: the only person present with no sin. He is the one who is able to cast the first stone. And yet, his closing words in this story are good news for all of us who realize it is in this Kingdom that we belong: "Neither do I condemn you."
What beautiful, sweet and humbling words. The only one capable of casting the first stone and He takes it for Himself. He continues: "Now go, and sin no more."
We aren't condemned, but we're called to something outside of ourselves - to stop living for ourselves. There is power when we allow this experience of grace to compel us toward more than what we're currently living for.
Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus says we are to forgive as He has forgiven. When asked how often, he says 7x70. Jesus isn't referring to a literal equation of forgiveness that levels out to 490 times forgiven. He is speaking to the fact that our forgiveness (just like His) should be unending.
To live is to experience grace, to some degree. And each breath, each meal, each smile; these are experience's of grace. And to experience belonging, especially to the point of being re-membered into the family we were created for, that is grace. We forgive because we've been forgive. And when we do this, we see that community is possible.
Imagine a community of people who live in a way where they don't condemn one another, and yet are called to something outside themselves together. That is what it looks like to belong. To experience a life giving grace that frees you of what enslaves you and then carries you to something better. Let us be a community who lives this out in Over the Rhine.