For to him who has shown no mercy the judgment [will be] merciless, but mercy [full of glad confidence] exults victoriously over judgment. – James 2:13 (AMP)
Maybe she was lonely. Maybe she was a battered wife, abused and abandoned by her husband. Maybe her husband had left her. Maybe she was trying to make money (there was no ‘unemployment office’ in those days). Maybe he was cheating on her. Maybe she didn’t know who she was. Maybe she felt unloved. Maybe she wanted more in her life and thought she would find it in a man. Maybe she thought he really loved her. Maybe she thought she’d found ‘the one’ and didn’t know where to start with it in her life. Maybe he lied and told her he was single. Maybe she wanted some excitement and didn’t think she’d get caught. Maybe she was unloved in her life. Maybe she wanted to get caught. Maybe she wanted out. Maybe a part of her just wanted to die.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what the ‘maybe’ was because we aren’t meant to know. Maybe all that matters is that God knew, and we didn’t. Maybe, just maybe, that is relevant.
All the people around her had opinions about her and what she had done. They looked down on her, thought she deserved to die for what she did. It didn’t matter that they did things everyday and just were sneaky enough to not get caught. Not to mention, the vast number of people who knew what they did but looked the other way because of who was doing what they did. Behind closed doors, every one of them either did the same things, did different things, or thought about doing those things. Somebody envied her. Somebody imagined what she did and longed for those moments she had. Somebody wanted to pelt the rocks hard and fast because they longed to do what she did, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Somebody hated her. Somebody looked at her and saw everything wrong in the world. Somebody blamed her for everything that was wrong with society. Somebody called her names. Somebody talked about her behind her back. They caught wind of what was going on and told everyone they could find, but told everyone they told to keep it a secret. We all knew they went on and talked, too. Somebody mocked her. Somebody felt they had the right to wish death upon her. Somebody was there, ready to fling that stone, because they were better than her.
The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) reveals to us something essential about the Christian life and especially an essential about those who are called to leadership. I call it the principle of non-judgment. Non-judgment is a principle by which we make the choice to be merciful, recognizing who we are and choosing not to use what people have done against them to make ourselves feel better. Whether we like to admit it or not, judgment makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel more acceptable to God in light of what we do, and look down upon people for falling into what they have done. It’s a comfortable place, a cushy place, a place where black and white and right and wrong stare in a punitive, cold, unmerciful accusation where what should be right and should be ideal is used as a weapon.
I find the story of the woman caught in adultery very important. In many instances, it reminds me of the accusations made against Mary when she was found to be pregnant with Jesus (Matthew 1:18-19). The people of Mary’s day didn’t view her any differently than they viewed this woman. She was unmarried, she was pregnant, Joseph was not claiming to be the father, and as far as they were concerned, her pregnancy was the evidence they needed. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Son of God? A big yeah right, get real. Nobody believed her. She could have told the truth and nobody would have listened. She could have implored, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Instead, we do not see Mary speak in her own defense. It wouldn’t have changed their sanctimonious self-righteousness disguised as upholding a godly principle. It wouldn’t make them understand what she was going through or what her life was going to be like. Nobody would have cared about the reality of the task God set before her. It wasn’t going to be manger scenes as the “holy family” sat around the campfire and sang Kumbaya. She didn’t speak because it didn’t matter.
The Bible doesn’t indicate the woman caught in adultery spoke, either. There wasn’t any reason to speak. It wasn’t going to matter what she said, they wouldn’t believe her, anyway. It wouldn’t change their minds. It wouldn’t change their hearts.
I wonder if there is another reason for their silence, a deeper reason, an introspective reason. I wonder if somewhere behind the silence they remembered all the thoughts and accusations they made about others. They remembered the rumors they heard that they just happened to pass on because the gossip was just too good to pass up. I wonder if they had ever thrown stones at someone. I wonder if they thought of the misjudgments in their lives and the way they’d wrongly looked at others. I wonder if, in those moments…they wondered if their thoughts and actions had been justified. If they wished they could have taken what they had done and thought back.
The major difference between the perceptive of Mary and the perceptive of the woman caught in adultery is simple: we don’t judge Mary because we know something those people didn’t. We have too received the revelation only the Holy Spirit can give. Now we need to pray for the spiritual heart and perspective to rest in the grace of God for what we don’t know and refuse to use what we do know against others.
Judgment is a dishonest place (Matthew 7:1-5). It is when we convince ourselves that we are above doing certain things because of a sense of self-esteem rather than divine mercy. One of my biggest gripes with the modern psychiatric/psychological professions is the fact that it is judgmental. I do not like it when people try to crawl in my head and tell me what I am thinking, what I am feeling, and why I did something. As a rule, I can figure those things out for myself. So too does the church do the same, cleverly trying to analyze people and then tell them what is wrong with them for what we did. We don’t like to feel that helpless feeling, that total sense of void where nothing we say or does matters. We don’t even feel like we can defend ourselves or speak up, no matter how we may feel about what we’ve done. Our lives and the lives of those we’ve known and judged flash before us. All we want is a little mercy…and in judgment, we don’t find that.
Nobody wants to be the woman caught in adultery…but underneath it all, we are all her. Jesus stooped down and listed the sins of the leaders not to prove that they were no better than her, but to prove that they were her. There is a reason why she is unnamed: because she is all of us. We don’t confide in others because we fear what they will say to us. We fear and try to dodge the stones of pity, criticism, loathing, envy, and hatred that people throw when they discover things about us. We don’t trust other people because they are untrustworthy. We fear what they will say to other people. We fear that our honesty will cause them to never look at us the same way again, of the awkward strain and silences that result when we are honest with others. We fear that moment when we will be set in the city square because everyone will wind up knowing, as we lay buried under a pile of stones.
The Bible is full of open-ended situations where we don’t have the complete story. I believe God did this on purpose. We like to write in our own details, our own endings, write the story of the Bible from our own perspective. God doesn’t give us the “why” because He wants us to outgrow our own temptations to project ourselves on the Word. In doing so, we learn about the power and grace of mercy over judgment. If we want to be effective witnesses of the Gospel, we need to make sure we aren’t judging people in any form. We need to keep the stones on the ground and remember that moment when the Lord held her hand and said, “Neither do I condemn you.” He was the only One there who had the right to condemn her, and He chose not to because He knew something everyone else didn’t. We need to make the Lord Himself our model, knowing ourselves, knowing our lives, and knowing that it is only His mercy that grabs our hand and carries us to a better place.
In our lives, there will always be something we resisted that others did not, and something we didn’t resist that someone else did. There will forever be situations we hear about where we think we would have done things differently, forgetting that we weren’t in them and we probably don’t know what we would do. All I can advise is think before you throw. Whoever, whatever…you will realize one day is you.
(c) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.