What Jesus' Empty Hands Teach Us about Forgiveness
I really feel for this woman, I really do. Can you imagine being dragged out, placed in the center of a hostile crowd who becomes informed of your sin? The level of shame (and fear) that moment would hold would be suffocating! There's no love in this crowd. No grace. No forgiveness. No understanding. No one stepping up to say, "I may not have committed this particular sin, but I have sinned. We're in the same boat." No one showed her any kindness.
The religious leaders charged with the responsibility to reflect the God they claimed to serve didn't even step up with truth and grace. The religious leaders of the day use her as a pawn in their game of deception against Jesus. No matter how Jesus would answer, He'd either be discredited or maybe even found out to be exactly like them. Heartless, cruel, holier than thou.
This is one story that causes me to wonder about the details. What did Jesus write on the ground? Why did this interaction cause the older ones to walk away first, choosing to not kill this woman? Where was the man? Had the man been put in this woman's bed in order to trap her in this sin? Was he standing there in the crowd or with the scribes and Pharisees? Where was he? Why wasn't he brought into this conversation, you know... because they were following Moses' law (or at least the parts that seemed appealing in the moment). Why in the world would they want to catch her in the very act of her sin?
There are so many details, so many questions, so much confusion, but mostly I find myself so angry. These representatives of God were complete counterfeits. They were frauds. The evil that resided in their hearts really come out in this story (as well as others).
But Jesus. Then there's Jesus. The genuine representative of God. He blows me away. If you go back in your Bibles and read Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, you'll discover that the scribes and Pharisees weren't wrong in that the punishment for adultery was death. Where they went wrong was that they hadn't included the man in the death sentence.
So imagine the scribes and Pharisees challenging Jesus, "What do you say?" Jesus represented something so different than those two verses from the Law. God is Just, but do you think these verses fail to capture the entirety of God's character? I think when Jesus showed up, began His ministry, saw people face to face. I think the face these people looked into (the same face we looked into) reflected justice, grace, love, and forgiveness. These same attributes were displayed in the Old Testament. Yet somehow the attributes, when we look at Jesus' face, make the Old Testament make sense.
There He is, left with "What do you say?" and even I'm on the edge of my seat. I hold my breath awaiting a response because suddenly this is an intense situation. According to these two verses in Moses' Law, this woman would be killed. Yet, would Jesus say something different? Would Jesus end up looking like these religious leaders?
Jesus does the unthinkable. He does the unexpected. Of all the ways to respond to these people, He chose silence and to bend down and write on the ground. We don't know what He wrote. We could speculate. Maybe He wrote down the ten commandments? Maybe He wrote about the condition of their hearts? Maybe He wrote down their sins? The simple fact is, whatever He wrote got their attention.
He caused her accusers to examine themselves and find themselves guilty of sin.
My mom always had this reminder when I was growing up. That when we're pointing and accusing someone of some wrong, that all the rest of our fingers pointing back at us. Jesus caused this woman's accusers to examine themselves and find themselves guilty of sin. He knew they weren't sinless. They knew they weren't sinless. Yet the interesting thing about this exchange was that the very One who was sinless didn't cast a single stone. Instead, the One who had the right to kill her chose to show her forgiveness and allow her to walk in her second chance at a new life.
This woman had stood in the midst of this crowd knowing that her death was imminent. It wasn't a matter of IF she'd be killed, it was a matter of WHEN that first stone would be thrown. Yet, Jesus turned everything on its head! Her death sentence never came! She expected death, she had no idea to expect life. Yet, she stood there, just her and the giver of Life, and she got her life back. Unexpected forgiveness changes a person.
We're all this woman. Maybe we've never committed the sin that she had, but we're all guilty of sin. None of us are sinless. The consequence of our sin is death, BUT JESUS. Jesus offers us life. He offers us forgiveness. He offers us a second chance at a brand new life. We stand in our shame, fully expecting our death sentence. He did the unexpected by dying our death on the cross. He pardoned us with His blood. When we accept His gift of life, His words to us are the same: