Did you hear the one about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson going camping?
After sharing a good meal and a bottle of wine, they retire to their tent for the night. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?”
Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asks, “And, what does that tell you?”
Watson replies, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Horologically, it tells me that it’s about 3 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes retorts, “Someone stole our tent.”
In sorting through, and trying to understand the details, we can so easily miss the broad and overarching point. I now think of that story every time I think of the woman forgiven for adultery – my favorite story from Jesus.
This story shows God’s enormous forgiveness, far beyond the Law, apart from repentance.
This story shows an incredibly generous and loving heart of God that legalists cannot understand, either then or now. Legalists think keeping the law makes you righteous. Jesus says he makes you righteous.
And, by the way, the vast majority of today’s Christian church – regardless of denomination or lack thereof – is legalistic. Why? Because the focus is on behavior – on right and wrong, instead of on life.
Invariably, when we point to that story as an amazing gracious gift on God’s part, someone immediately jumps in with: “but he told her to go and sin no more!” As if to unravel it. As if to throw black paint across the beautiful picture of truth and intimacy with God that Christ has painted.
I explain more fully in my post, The Woman Forgiven for Adultery, what Jesus is actually saying, and why.Jesus shows us two vital pieces, as vast as the sky, that Christians today need to wrap around their every interaction in his name.
One… Whatever he said, Jesus is the one who said it to her! He prevented any living soul from correcting her, condemning her, diminishing her, shaming her. He prevented them from carrying out punishment for a clear violation of the law. None of that was anyone else’s prerogative, period. That, along with several other stories where he tells people not to judge. If Christians would embrace that, it would actually stand a chance of becoming a sweet aroma of Christ to the world needs him instead of an acrid stench they recoil from.
Two… Jesus did not condemn her! Caught in the act of flagrant sin, sin that by law required her immediate execution by stoning, still Jesus did not condemn her. He set aside the law. That is remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. We have no standing whatever to tell people that Jesus — or God — condemns anyone for anything. No standing. And we have no standing whatever to condemn anyone ourselves.
These two truths, this message of compassion, grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love is the core message of Jesus.
These truths will set our hearts free to love and be loved.
And until we as a church steep ourselves in these truths, until they ooze out of our pores, we have no business even representing Jesus or speaking for him about anything.