This is the passage where Jesus challenges the one without sin to throw the first stone.
It is not often that I suggest that a person should leave my church… It happened many years ago when I was the pastor of a small country church. The member involved was a very nice lady with a beautiful smile. Her husband would drop her off in front of the church every Sunday but he never stayed. Instead, he would go to another church while she worshiped at mine. They were both “older” adults (some time ago I might have said “elderly” but I’m getting closer to 60 now so…) She had a great spirit that just radiated wherever she went. After the service was over her husband would return and occasionally visit with me as he waited for her to finish a conversation or some other errand. I learned that he was a lifelong member of “his” church and though he was polite when I would teasingly suggest he visit our church some Sunday… he sincerely loved his church and would never leave. One Sunday I found the opportunity to speak to her alone and I suggested that maybe she should consider leaving our church to worship with her husband. That is when I learned why she would not do so…
She told me about a young couple who had grown up in their church. They had attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for years …and as teenagers, had been part of their Youth Fellowship program. They fell in love and dreamed of a wedding and a life together in “their church.” And then… the young woman became pregnant.
They spoke to the pastor about moving the wedding date up as soon as possible. He insisted that they must first appear before the Church Board to confess their sins before permission could be given to host a wedding. After facing that hurdle the Board (made up of men) insisted that the young couple must stand before the congregation and make a public confession. They bravely and tearfully stood on a Sunday morning before the congregation …made up of their trusted “church family” …and confessed their sins. Afterword’s the congregation held a vote and denied them permission to be married in the church; worried that in so doing they would be condoning the young couple’s indiscretion.
I shook my head and told her that I understood why she had left that church. She replied, “That was not when I left…”
“I left,” she said, “After I attended a beautiful wedding held less than a year later in that same church.” The new Bride and Groom were members of very wealthy and prominent church families …and the bride was very, very pregnant. This couple had faced no judgments or public humiliation. She went on to say… “Every time I worshiped in that sanctuary after that, all I could think of were the tears in the first couple’s eyes… …all I could hear were the judging whispers of the people that they had trusted. I just couldn’t stay.”
I find it interesting that in our passage, like in the couple’s story above, there are differing standards used for those lower on the social ladder. In our passage only the woman was brought before Jesus to be stoned, not the man. Jesus makes a point of not responding to the passion of those bringing accusations against their intended victim. Instead, he reminds us all of our need for grace and forgiveness.