Week 5: Love fulfills the law of God
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Romans 12:1-3; 13:8-10; John 8:2-11
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There’s no question this woman did wrong.
Let’s be clear. There’s little defense when you’re caught in the act, whether it’s adultery or taking a cookie from the jar.
It’s also clear the scribes and Pharisees aren’t interested in this woman’s fate. They want her stoned to death, since by law her sin deserved that. But they’ve got bigger fish to fry. They want to expose Jesus as a fraud.
So they haul her into the Temple grounds – this is no street corner – and stand her before Jesus as he teaches.
Here’s another clear thing: Jesus lives out of a reality and awareness radically different from this woman and her accusers. He neither attacks her nor falls for their trap.
Instead, he completely changes the question. Here’s a humiliated, vulnerable woman, and a harassed and slandered rabbi. With a few drawings on the ground and an offhand remark, suddenly the accusers become the uncomfortable and embarrassed ones.
This was supposed to be the woman’s trial. And also Jesus’ trial.
But in this story we realize neither of them are on trial.
Jesus kind of proves the leaders right, so he skips his trial. He doesn’t seem to care that she broke God’s law. (He actually does, but that comes later.) He mostly cares that they want to judge and make an example of her. So he avoids putting her on trial, too.
It turns out the leaders are on trial. That means things are about to get uncomfortable and embarrassing for us, too. Because unless we can relate to being publicly humiliated for a bad sin we have done, there’s one obvious role for us in this story.
We’re the leaders, and we’re also on trial. We come to Jesus with the sins of other people, certain we’re right, and he says, “What about you? How are you handling dealing with sin in your life?”
What, then? Don’t we ever get to judge others?
If people do sinful things, we’re just supposed to ignore that?
Jesus doesn’t say that. He just asks the judgers about their sinfulness, exposing them. They really don’t care about sin here, or they wouldn’t have stopped with her. Remember, this woman was caught “in the very act” of adultery, it says. Not to be indelicate, but someone else was there and involved. Why wasn’t he dragged into the Temple grounds?
They’ve got an agenda to prove Jesus can’t be from God because he doesn’t follow God’s law. They judge this woman to see if Jesus will, too. If not, he’s illegitimate.
If we were honest, we’d admit we often have another agenda, too. We pick and choose, as they did, whom we judge. Some people get a free pass. Others don’t.
If what Jesus thinks matters to us, we might ask, whenever we want to judge someone else, “why this one and not another? And what sin will Jesus see in me when I judge this person? Could I stand before him, stone in hand, confident in my judgment?”
Instead of judging our neighbor, Jesus seems far more interested that we judge ourselves.
Jesus also seems more concerned about how we love each other than about individual sins.
We may want further conversation with Jesus about whether there are any appropriate times we can say, “this isn’t right.” He likely would say sometimes that’s a thing his followers should do.
But when it comes to our relationship with our neighbor, he’s clear: to fulfill God’s law, (which we presumably support when we judge), loving our neighbor is the only way. Paul agrees in Romans: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
These Lenten Wednesdays we’ve considered the many ways we in Christ are called to love those who are not us, our neighbor. Most of the situations we’ve seen – poverty, different faith, our own discomfort with connecting with people, sickness, hunger – are challenges to us to love, but aren’t sinful things our neighbor is doing.
Today, the sin is without question. And our Lord Christ still says it’s not relevant to our call. We love our neighbor, even when our neighbor is sinful.
Well, that’s not going to happen unless something changes in us.
The only way we can follow Jesus is if we enter into his reality, his world, his way of being. If we become like him.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” Paul says, “so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Jesus’ radical way simply doesn’t fit in our world as our world is built. We can’t live or understand it in our minds as they normally think and process. The only way we can live and love like Jesus is if we become Jesus.
If we’re transformed, changed by the Holy Spirit into the Christ we are called to be. There’s no other way to get our minds and hearts around this radical love of neighbor that is the heartbeat of following Christ.
Then we become people who finally, simply, consistently love God and neighbor with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Who don’t argue with God about this, or test God about this, or petulantly try to preserve a tiny piece of our self-righteousness. We become new creations.
This episode in the Temple turned out to be our trial, our test.
If you’re like me, you probably failed it. Or have failed it. Or will fail it.
Let’s be clear about that. We’ve been caught in the act of being unloving, of judging our neighbor. There’s no defense if you’re caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
Which means we get to change roles in this story, and hear Jesus’ last words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on, do not sin again.”
When we’re the guilty ones, that’s the answer of the Son of God. I do not condemn you, either. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore. Let me transform you. Let me make you new, so you are like me.
No surprise, the best place to be when you’re caught red-handed is in front of the Son of God, whose love cannot be stopped even by death. Because there your new life begins, like the rising of the sun, and the love of God fills you to the core.
And whatever you might imagine that woman felt as she walked out of the Temple grounds that day, that’s our Lord’s gift to you, to me.
And we are transformed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen