| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Fragile, living stones- a "Passion" series based upon 1 Peter 2:4-10
Message preached March 28,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon John 8:1-11
Order of Worship
The following was transcribed from an “amble and ramble” style sermon.
If it’s just the right shape you want to see how many times you can make it
skip. Or maybe you just want to see how far you can get it to fly. Maybe you
just want to see how it splashes, and the ripples that go out from that
splash… You walk through the woods and find just the right kind of rock, and
you see a tree and sight it up, and try to hit this target with that stone.
We’ve been using stones these last several weeks as tools to help us get at
some things that aren’t easy to touch, not as tangible as stones. Things such
as rejection, or how God is
solid rock, our sanctuary, but also at the same time God is like a rock we can
stumble over. We’ve used these stones in a metaphorical way to explore temptation, and
fear. And perhaps some of you have been using your stones
throughout the week, as something in your pocket or purse which, every time you
reach in, makes you think. I understand that some of you have become quite
attached to your stones. Let me warn you - next week we’re going to be doing
something that you may not like if you’re very attached to it. I’m going to
ask you to give it up.
Stones. You know, it wasn’t just “tongue in check” - the few times over the couple weeks - that we joked about not using your stone to throw at the preacher. Throwing stones. Was it any different this time, as you listened that familiar story? Did you hear it a bit differently, sitting there with a stone in your hand? Did that make any difference to you? It’d be interesting to explore that.
There are so many questions about this story as it has been given to us. One of the first ones I ask is – where is the guy who was caught with her. It takes two to tango, you know. Why isn’t he standing beside her in front of Jesus? I have other questions as well. Furthermore, I’m a pastor. I walk with persons and families through difficult times. This scene from scripture is a perfect example of a family in crisis. I’m not searching for excuses for adultery. There is no excuse for stepping over a boundary that shouldn’t be stepped over. But you wonder what was behind all this in the story. What led a woman to reach out beyond her marriage? What’s going on here?
There’s often much more happening in a relationship than what meets the eye. But what we have received is the story of this woman literally yanked before the religious authorities. The big “rub” I find here (see warning below) comes in what these authorities did with this family in crisis. Instead of trying to do what was right, they used this situation and this woman to try to trap Jesus, perhaps continuing a cycle of people using her that needed to be stopped. There’s so much going on in this story, as she is made to stand before him with all her accusers standing around calling for her blood. It’s a difficult story.
Stoning. Do you know what stoning really entailed? I don’t want to go into all the grisly details. Many of us went to see that movie about “The Passion of the Christ,” and were filled in on a lot of the grisly details of crucifixion (see note below). Stoning was just as gruesome back then. What it entailed, if it was done right (and “done right” is a strange way of putting it), was the accused stripped naked and made to stand on a wall that was at least twice this person’s height.
|According to the law of Moses, the following offenses were punishable by stoning: worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-7), or inciting others to do so (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), child sacrifice to a false god (Leviticus 20:2-5), prophesying in the name of another god (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), divining spirits (Leviticus 20:27), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:15-16), breaking the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), homicide by an ox (Exodus 21:28-32), adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22-24), even being a stubborn and rebellious child who doesn’t heed parents’ discipline (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Then one of the witnesses would push that person off the wall in such a way as to hit the ground below head first. If the accused survived the fall, she was turned over onto her back and a second witness would then come up, not with a little stone such as we now hold in out hands, but a big boulder with which to slam down upon her chest. If that blow likewise did not kill her, the rest of the gathered witnesses would then throw stones at her until the job was finished. It was a horrible way to die (for more on this, read about the stoning of Stephen, one of the first deacons in the church).
It was not unusual back then. You look to the Law of Moses, and you see that this was a prescription for a number of different things. When you look to the gospels, you find that Jesus himself came close to being stoned in his own hometown. The words he said really bothered folks enough there that they took him out of town and were going to throw him off a cliff – the equivalent of a high wall – they were starting the stoning process. But he walked away (Luke 4:16-30).
Back to the story of the woman caught in adultery. Here we have this crowd of witnesses. Now, let’s not stand too far outside this story that we fail to allow it to speak to us. It’s easy to read this episode and say, “tsk, tsk, shame, shame” to the crowd gathered around her. I want to give these folks the benefit of the doubt. They had some good intentions here. They perceived a problem that needed to be made right (see warning below).
I imagine the mother-in-law really upset over the treatment of her son, and if there were children – “my lands, what about them?” Of course, we can also well imagine the husband in all this. And the others – well, there was a disruption in the community. Adultery is not just a simple matter involving two persons. It affects a wider number of people. A family is being pulled apart. This is a family in crisis. These folks had every reason to work on this, to try to make things right.
We do some of the same things today. Oh, we don’t stone people with rocks. We find other ways of dealing with it. When we see a problem in a family we try to identify the source of that problem. Only, we often identify the problem with a person, such that the person becomes the problem. And if only we could just get rid of the “problem,” that is, get rid of the person who is the problem, then the problem is solved. Right?
You know this story. It functions to teach us some things. Jesus listened. He didn’t tell people to be quiet. He listened. It says he was scribbling in the dust. We have no idea what he was writing. It doesn’t say. People were enumerating all the bad things this woman had done, why she was the problem. [By the way, this woman is never called one of “those” women (i.e. a prostitute)]. Perhaps Jesus, as he listened was marking each condemnation in the sand. Or maybe he was writing down the commandments she had broken, as they were listed. Who knows?
He waited until all had their chance to speak. Then he stood – you know the
words. Now, it only dawned on me this morning, as I was reading this scripture
yet another time, the significance of the location. Where did this episode take
place? Jesus was teaching in the
What did Jesus say? Those who have no sin should be the first to throw a stone.
Did his answer satisfy anybody? I don’t think it did. I don’t think people
walked away feeling good about that solution to the problem. Do you think they
did? They probably went away muttering under their breath. In his response they
recognized the truth. In that sense it wasn’t necessarily a pleasing solution
to everyone. This, by the way, should give us some clues to peacemaking. I think
we sometimes have a false notion of peacemaking, that there is that “one
solution” which – if only we could find it and try it – would make
everyone happy. But is that really the case? If there were one solution we would
have peace in the
Jesus, however, forced those folks to look inside. And in the process of looking inside, they dropped their stones. You know the story. You know what happened next. Jesus looked at the woman and asked, “where are all these people who had condemned you?” And she said, “they all left.”
We often think that God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy comes after our repentance. But that’s not the case here, and the truth is: God is always a couple steps ahead of us. The truth here is that this woman was not before Jesus of her own will. There’s no evidence here that she did any repenting – i.e. turning from her sin. Jesus simply said to her, “I don’t condemn you either. Go and stop sinning. Find another way.”
That’s the end of the story. But in this ending we are given a picture of God – a God (and this is important because I think some of us see God in this way) who doesn’t look like this [point at various individuals in the congregation, threatening to throw a stone at them]. Instead, the picture Jesus gives us of God looks [toss the stone behind the back and spread arms wide toward the congregation] like this. Amen? Amen!
|Warning - this scene (John 8:1-11) should trouble all of us. Like other scriptures, we need to allow it entrance into our lives, to let it speak to us on the inside. If we only see "those" women, or "those" people, or "those" Jews when we open the Bible and read stories such as this, we haven’t allowed God’s Word to really speak to us. Our Jewish friends, as I’m sure you’ve heard, have recently been nervous about the latest rendition of “The Passion of the Christ” because too often in the past certain Christians externalized the story of Jesus’ suffering and death, looking around for someone else to blame. The Jewish race has all-too-often been made responsible for killing Jesus. For many, the passion story became an excuse for Anti-Semitism. There is, however, no excuse for Anti-Semitism.
the Christ” revealed in graphic detail, Jesus’
later suffering was a gruesome means of death, like stoning. Now, the
point we should not get from that movie is that our Lord bravely
endured what nobody else could. No. Many people in those days were
crucified. At certain times, the roads leading to Jerusalem were lined
with crosses, and not empty ones at that. Crucifixion was a means used
by the Roman army of keeping law and order in a land full of hot-blooded
fanatics. Jesus did not suffer any more than anyone else. As one author
|online resources for this scripture text
For commentaries consulted, see John.
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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