Sunday, May 16, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Doing the right thing can be hard to do. It matters not whether doing the right thing is a public act or a private act. It takes courage, conviction, and a willingness to lay your values, and I would say, your faith on the line.
Doing the right thing in public is even more difficult if there are other people around you in that moment who disagree with your understanding of the right thing.
Jesus very often found himself in public situations where doing the right thing was not the popular thing to do and sometimes, not even the religious thing to do.
Like in today’s reading.
Jesus goes to the temple early in the morning and of course he is followed by the crowds. So, he sits down to teach them.
Little did they know that they would get a lesson on what it means to catch stones instead of throwing stones.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
According to the religious law of the day, the right thing to do was to throw stones at this woman until she was dead. Keep in mind, this is a public setting, and the religious leaders are testing Jesus.
Bryan Stevenson is an African American law professor who teaches at New York University, and he is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He is the author of “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Perhaps some of you have seen the movie or read his book.
Stevenson uses the phrase ‘stone catchers’ to describe people who stand up and intervene when someone’s humanity is being robbed.
I like that phrase. It is a new image for me, connected to this biblical story, that helps me to understand what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus is a stone catcher. Notice what he does in this situation. Pay attention to how he intervenes and catches the stones when the religious leaders bring this woman to him to publicly take away her humanity. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
Isn’t that a strange thing to do? I wonder if it helped to calm things down, force the people to begin thinking about what they were doing. To re-examine their values, even their understanding of faith. To actually see the humanity in this woman they brought before Jesus.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Are you a stone thrower or a stone catcher?
In an interview with Krista Tippett, Stevenson said this; “And so I think it is incumbent on some of us to intervene, to catch the stones. We have to stand in front of those who are vulnerable, and we have to catch those stones.”
One of the things that gives me hope and encourages me is the willingness of young people in our midst to stand up and see the humanity in other people, to be stone catchers.
I wonder how the graduating seniors we honor today will take their faith out into the world and be that person who does the right thing, who is the lone voice in the crowd, who bends down and writes in the sand and says the same thing Jesus says, if you are without sin, cast the first stone.
I wonder how they will take their faith out into the world and bear the burden of people who are falsely judged by the color of their skin or the faith they practice. To bear the burdens of the least, the lost and those we struggle to see and recognize in our world.
The world would not have witnessed the murder of George Floyd if not for the courage of a 17-year-old young woman by the name of Darnella Frazier who stood on the sidewalk at 38th and Chicago and pressed play on her phone.
She is a stone catcher.
The way Jesus handles the crowd, the people who want to throw the stones, as well as the woman who is brought before him for judgment and death, is both convicting to me and eye opening. This is not a story that condones adultery or peddles some cheap grace.
No, Jesus is modeling something for all of us in this story. He is showing us what it means to bear the burdens of those who are most vulnerable in our midst.
He is showing the church what it can aspire to be in our world.
- A place of refuge.
- A safe place for people of all colors.
- A place of welcome and hope no matter what has happened in your life that would cause you to feel like you do not belong or are not worthy of God’s love and grace.
- A place that speaks out when we fail to do the right thing.
As I have listened to this Word of God I wonder if this is what social justice looks like.
I have struggled with trying to understand exactly what that means.
And I wonder, when Jesus catches stones and invites us to do the same, is this one definition of social justice?
- Where one person stands up and protects another human person.
- When one person decides to preserve the human dignity of another person.
Might this be a definition of social justice?
If so, then social justice has numerous applications and there are an unlimited number of ways to live it out and practice it.
Catching stones is social justice.
Loving your neighbor is social justice.
Recognizing the humanity in each other is social justice.
Telling the truth about racial inequities and being willing to examine your own understanding of that reality is social justice.
Jesus is speaking to you and me when he says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Catching stones rather than throwing them is an act of faith.
It is bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ.
It is I believe; what Jesus wants us to do.
 Heidi Stevens*Chicago Tribune