“If any one of you is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”

It’s one of the most famous things Jesus ever said. 

The religious insiders had brought to Jesus a woman they’d “caught in adultery,” a sin that under Jewish law called for the death penalty. The fact that they had somehow been unable to “catch” the adulterous man was proof enough that they were just using her to trap Jesus.

In one sentence, Jesus confirmed the reality of sin, the judgment sin requires, and the mercy we all need.

This week a Pennsylvania lawmaker filmed himself harassing a woman and her teenage daughters who were praying outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood clinic, then posted the video online. Somehow, in our polarized culture, some people think it’s acceptable to publicly humiliate those they disagree with.

If you divide the world between “us” and “them,” then anyone who isn’t “us” is only getting what they deserve.

But there’s a worldview that doesn’t divide between “us” and “them.” That worldview is captured in Jesus’ words, “If any one of you is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The Christian faith says no one can stand in the presence of a holy God. We all deserve death. But instead, God has chosen to offer us mercy.

After Jesus made his famous pronouncement, he went back to drawing in the dirt with his finger. One by one, the religious insiders dropped their stones and left until only the woman remained. Incredibly, Jesus had allowed the reality of sin to convict everyone, while sparing everyone public humiliation.

Jesus allowed the humiliation to come down on him.

He caught the stones meant for the woman, the religious insiders, and us.

The extra mile

It’s one of the most famous sayings in the Bible. Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

In Jesus’ day, there were few things people hated more than the Roman occupation. There were Jewish rebels who wanted to kill any Roman solider they saw. It was especially galling that Roman soldiers could order anyone to carry their gear for a mile. Jesus’ command that his followers should voluntarily go an extra mile would have seemed ridiculous.

We hear the phrase “go the extra mile,” as “push yourself, go above and beyond.” But in Jesus’ day, one of the most humiliating things that could happen to you was to have a hated, pagan, occupying soldier make you carry his stuff. Jesus was saying, “Accept the humiliation. Go with him two miles.”

We don’t think this way at all. When someone humiliates me, I usually start imagining what I’m going to say to put them in their place.

How many times have you seen a situation escalate into real violence because someone had their pride wounded?

How many times have you seen a situation diffused when someone refused to be goaded into a fight?

Don’t you wish our politicians today took Jesus’ sayings to heart?

Jesus never condoned murder or injustice; that’s not what this command is about.

If anyone was ever humiliated; if anyone had a right to be angry about the way he was treated, it was Jesus Christ. Instead, he turned anger and humiliation into grace. That’s what he’s calling us to do.

He didn’t carry the gear for a soldier, he carried a cross for us.