Pharisees, a Jewish religious sect, held themselves in high regard. They meticulously followed God’s commandments, plus countless Levitical laws and customs. Yet Jesus, in Matthew 23, scolded them severely for hypocrisy. They put law above love, tradition above compassion.
On February 5th our men’s Sunday School lesson was taken from John 8:3-11. Those verses tell of a woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees. They asked if she should be stoned under Mosaic Law. Justice, though, was not really their concern. They saw the woman’s indiscretion as an opportunity to entrap Jesus.
If Jesus said the woman should not be punished, they could accuse him of violating God’s commands. But if he condoned stoning her, they could report him to the Roman authorities as advocating disobedience. The government had sole power to carry out executions.
Our lesson, “I Am The Light,” emphasized the grace Jesus showed toward the lady. He gave the Pharisees an answer that offered little room for rebuttal. Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That disqualified all of her accusers. One by one they quietly drifted away.
When class ended, Mike Roper mentioned another slant our study could have taken. The title he suggested was “The Stones In My Pocket.” I wish Mike hadn’t made that observation. I’ve been checking my pockets ever since.
I’ve never thrown a rock at anyone and have no plans to start now. But there’s no doubt I’ve cast some verbal stones, more intentionally at times than others. It usually happens when I speak before thinking.
Sometimes it’s tempting to respond sharply rather than patiently, to let anger and irritation preempt grace and kindness. Today’s divisive politics is one area that provides frequent opportunities for throwing hurtful words around.
Respectful dialogue is increasingly rare. Vitriolic attacks and character assassinations have become commonplace. People of faith should strongly advocate for biblically sound positions, but Jesus gave us a perfect example of how to present our views. He didn’t shout to make his points, just calmly spoke the truth.
Jesus could have blasted the Pharisees and exposed their ploy to discredit him. Or he could have dazzled them with a lecture and explained more about The Ten Commandments than their hearts were prepared to receive. Instead he answered softly and led them to consider their own shortcomings.
That was the same approach he took in addressing the woman after her accusers left. Rather than chastise her for past behavior, he simply told her to, “go and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t carry stones in his pockets.
Jimmy Collins, another class member, commented that stones could be seen from a positive angle. He mentioned the account of David, a young shepherd boy who slew Goliath, the Philistine giant. 1 Samuel 17 tells that story in which David chose five smooth stones from the stream for his sling.
The renowned warrior Goliath seemed a mismatch for a boy who tended sheep. Yet David was confident God would give him victory. His rock slinging was ordained by the One who created the rocks.
Perhaps there are times God directs us toward stones. It’s more likely, however, he’ll lead us away from them. Christ’s teachings are better reflected in the forgiving spirit of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Acts 7:54-60 tells of Stephen’s persecution. The Sanhedrin, a religious group, drug him out of the city and began stoning him. Rather than rebuking them in anger, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Saul was in the crowd and condoned the slaying. He would later become known as Paul, the leading spokesman for early Christianity. It’s been said, “If Stephen had not prayed, Paul might not have preached.”
There are multiple lessons we can discern from scriptures about stones. One is to be careful about casting them. Another is to be forgiving when they are thrown at us.
Self-evaluation can be troubling if done with honesty. I wish Mike Roper had not suggested that lesson title. The stones in my pocket are heavier than I thought.
This is a very good article with a lot of food for thought! You are much too hard on yourself, though: Your Christian walk and attitude are evident to all you touch.