I was getting ready for church this morning and had the radio tuned to our local NPR. Unfortunately this is not a very good radio so every time I move over to the closet the radio starts picking up a Christian station. This morning the preacher (I have no idea who it was, suggestions are welcome!) was taking as his text the (in)famous passage from John 8. You know the one, where the woman is caught in adultery and Jesus stoops writes in the dirt (“the names of all those who had committed adulterer, perhaps” said the preacher) and so on. Here, I should just quote the salient part.
John 8:3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Given all that follows I am morbidly curious to know what this preacher (hardly Qoheleth!) said, if anything, about the fact that this passage is a very late addition and of dubious origin. But to get to the portion that I heard clearly, so clearly, in fact, that it took me another 3 minutes to pick out a tie I was so stunned by the comments.(Paraphrasing, but I promise you the substance is as spoken.)
Jesus, who knew the Law so well since he was the one who had given it to Moses was not saying that someone caught in adultery should not be punished and stoned. Jesus is also not saying that anyone who is without any sin should cast the first stone, but merely that those who had not committed this sin, the sin of adultery, may step forward and stone the woman. Assuming, that is, that witness were brought forward, as required by the Law.
Wow. Look at that again. Jesus wasn’t saying that those without any sin should cast the first stone (in which case, of course, no one could cast said stone since all have sinned), but only those who had not committed this particular sin. I assume this preacher’s logic went on to assert that all those present had at some point enjoyed this sin since they all walked away, but I had chosen to eschew a tie all together and headed out to church at that point. But tell me, who comes up with stuff like this?
If I am generous I can only assume that the preacher was trying to push back against those who use this passage (as I have often heard it in my own church) to argue that we should not tell anyone that anything is a sin since, after all, we have all sinned and therefore should “cast no [metaphorical] stones.” (Matt. 7:1 is of course often brought in as well.) I am certainly sympathetic to such an effort, but this is just a remarkable twisting of the passage.
I cannot be sure, without hear the full sermon, but he seems to have ignored the context (“They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him”) and the fact that there is a fundamental shift in concepts of forgiveness that Jesus brings to the scene. Sure, developing an hermeneutic that takes in both the continuity of the Law and the transformation that comes from Jesus’ sacrifice “offered once, for all” is difficult, but just because it is hard does not excuse us from the work.
*shakes head* I would love to hear the full sermon. If anyone has a clue as to who it was, let me know. I think it was on WGRC but their program list only shows contemporary worship music from 9 – noon.
Has anyone heard a crazier sermon lately? Do tell!