On the eve of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, this blog post from fellow United Methodist pastor Mike Slaughter is making the rounds on social media today. Suffice it to say, if I had a post entitled, “40-Day Fast from Being a Jerk,” it would have to reflect on ways in which my own thoughts, words, and behavior are jerk-y. It would be a lengthy post!
Rev. Slaughter doesn’t go that route. At one point he writes, “Yes, we must admit, we who sin are guilty of casting stones. Our self-righteous indignation and critical judgment of others does not honor God or build faith in the lives of people in our networks of influence.”
I only want to focus on this first sentence: “Yes, we must admit, we who sin are guilty of casting stones.”
As far as I know, this is completely wrong. I’ve never heard of Christians in my lifetime casting stones at other people because of their sins.
If you think I sound nuts for raising this objection, it’s because you’re forgetting the context in which Jesus spoke these words in John 8:7. Jesus wasn’t speaking figuratively. When he said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” he was talking about actual stones, thrown at someone who, under the Law of Moses, was guilty of a capital crime.
It’s not that the woman isn’t guilty of a serious sin, or even that she doesn’t deserve death. She is and does. It’s just that the men who intend to cast stones are also sinners who deserve death for their sins. We all do. As Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Thank God, then, that because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, we don’t get what we deserve! Thank God that God incarnate, Jesus Christ, out of love, willingly chose to receive the death penalty for our sins—in our place. I believe Jesus’ words and actions in John 8 point forward to the cross. No, Jesus doesn’t condemn us, not because our sin isn’t worthy of condemnation, but because he has lain down his life as a propitiation for them.
If the starting point of the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t that we are sinners who deserve death and hell, then how else do we make sense of the gospel? Worse, how can we escape the conclusion that God himself is a “jerk” for judging and condemning people who refuse the saving grace made possible only through his Son’s sacrifice?
For all I know, Slaughter agrees with all of this, but, as always, before we speak of God’s grace, can we please remind people why they need it in the first place?