Judaism taught that God rules the world by the two “measures” (principles) of judgment and mercy, but that at the “last judgment”, he uses only the measure of judgment.
In other words, God may judge or show mercy now, but in the end, our lives are judged only on the basis of our merits and demerits.
Jesus, on the other hand, taught that the measure of mercy is in force at the last judgment too – that God is still merciful when judging our lives at the end.
But the measure of mercy he shows depends on the measure of mercy we showed to others during our lives.
[John 8: 2-11] – The Woman Caught in Adultery
Q: Does this story seem realistic to you? Is there anything about it that bothers you?
Q: If the men were convinced that she was guilty, why did they ask Jesus his thoughts? And why did they listen to him, weigh his answer, and then walk away?
Note that they were not about to stone the woman right then. There were legal proceedings that they would have to go through first.
John interprets their question as a test to trap Jesus. While on the one hand it seems an obvious interpretation, on the other it doesn’t really fit the situation.
Instead, it may be that they were trying to reconcile what Jesus had been telling them about the Kingdom of God and God’s desire for mercy as a guiding principle with the long-standing principle of following Moses’ Law as the expression of God’s will.
Here was a clear cut violation of Moses’ Law. How could Jesus justify showing mercy in such a case without also violating Moses’ Law?
Perhaps they did not want to stone her. Perhaps their hearts were recoiling at the thought, just as ours do today when we read the story. But how could they ignore their duty under the Law when the Law had been so blatantly violated?
Maybe they came to Jesus actually hoping for a way out…
“Now what do you say?”
Jesus’ answer, after thinking about it for a few moments, is that none of us are qualified to judge… None of us are qualified to enforce Moses’ Law.
Jesus continues to operate under the conviction that God wants something different from us anyway: Mercy… And he is not willing to compromise what he knows is God’s will in this case, even for the sake of Moses’ Law.
Jesus gives the religious men a way out, and they take it. They choose the Kingdom of God…
Q: This story is about leaving judgment to God, and God’s desire for mercy. But what action did mercy require in this case?
In the end, what was Jesus response to the woman herself?
It is not enough for us simply to control ourselves and refuse to judge others (though that is the first step).
We must actively forgive and show mercy to everyone who trespasses against us.
If we cannot do this, we cannot be in the Kingdom of God – not because God shuts us out, but because being unforgiving is incompatible with God’s values. We simply cannot be there when our hearts are somewhere else…
[Balcony and Basement excercise – pass out paper and pens;
Who is in your balcony cheering you on and reaching down to give you a hand to pull you up? Who is in your basement grasping at your pant legs and trying to drag you down?
Remember: those in either your balcony or basement don’t have to be someone you deal with everyday, or even someone who is still alive. Their ghosts and voices may live on in your memory and heart, pulling you up or dragging you down.
A person might even be both in your balcony or basement at the same time —
Q: How do you get those in your basement to let go of your legs?
A: You forgive them…
[Mt 18: 21-22] – how many times are we to forgive a person?
Peter suggests 7 times, which to him seemed an extravagant number signifying great forbearance.
But Jesus shocks him by saying 77 (also could be translated 70 times 7) — i.e., there is no upper limit…
Bibliography and Suggested Readings:
Jeremias, Joachim (1963) The Parables of Jesus. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003). Abingdon Press, Nashville.