Joe Christian meets a guy who’s shacking up with his girlfriend. Within the first conversation, Joe lets this guy know that he needs to “make an honest woman” of his girlfriend.
Susie Christian discovers that her coworker at the real estate office is a lesbian. Susie isn’t rude, but she makes a point of telling her coworker that her lifestyle is a sinful choice.
Jack Christian answers the door to find two Mormon missionaries on his front porch. He wastes no time explaining to the two young women that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and they are doing the devil’s work.
I wish I could say these types of situations are rare. They’re not. For some reason, many Christians seem to feel that when they encounter someone with (what they perceive as) a wrong belief or a wrong practice, they have a duty to express God’s disapproval. After all, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have disapproval for everything wrong.”
Oh, wait…no He didn’t.
Why do we feel the need to express the disapproval right away, and then maybe follow with love later on?
In my experience, when we lead with disapproval, we never get a chance to show love. People don’t want to be around us. And seriously, why would they? Do you enjoy having your treasured sins dragged out into the light? Me neither.
“But it’s necessary to get the sins out into the light,” someone will say. Yes, it is. But how did Jesus do it?
Once the religious authorities — masters of disapproval, they — caught a woman in adultery. In the very act. They dragged her to Jesus and threw her down in front of him. Imagine the scene. Do you think they asked her politely to accompany them? Do you think they escorted her gently into Jesus’ presence? Do you think they waited patiently while she dressed? Of course not. So there she is, thrown headlong on the cobblestones, half-dressed at best, scratched, bruised and bleeding. “Moses told us that such a person should be stoned to death!” they said. “What do you say?”
What did Jesus do?
Did He explain to her how what she was doing was wrong? Did He assure the Pharisees that of course He disapproved of her lifestyle choices? I mean, what would people think if He didn’t clarify things?
But of course, He did clarify things. He refused to take it seriously. He looked at the ground, and wrote in the dirt. They kept insisting on an answer. Finally, Jesus looked up and spoke.
“Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.”
Then He went back to writing in the dirt. Beginning with the oldest and continuing to the youngest, every last one of her accusers left. Every one of them.
Jesus looked at her. “Where are those who condemn you?”
“I don’t condemn you either,” Jesus said. “Go and sin no more.”
Do you see how He did it? Jesus loved her. Not just in word and in tongue, as a smart commentator would later say, but in deed and in truth. As she lay naked and bleeding on the cobblestones, the woman didn’t need someone to tell her how wrong she was. She didn’t need someone to express disapproval, to accuse her. The sons of the devil had that covered already. What she desperately needed was an advocate, someone to stand between her and her accusers and make them back off.
She needed an advocate precisely because she really was guilty. Obviously guilty. She had no case at all, no possibility of a defense. Johnny Cochran and Gerry Spence working together couldn’t have gotten her off.
And then, for no apparent reason, Jesus simply dismissed her sin. How is that right? Where’s the justice in that?
Jesus carried her sin to the cross, and let Himself be tortured to death for her sin. He paid everything anyone could ever ask in recompense for her sin, and then some. He bought the right to dismiss the consequences. You want justice? There it is — “He has shown you, O man, what is good — and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He satisfied justice to the full, and gave her mercy.
And then, once He had met her obvious needs and protected her from the predatory men who were going to kill her, Jesus said “I don’t condemn you either.” Did she believe Him? Of course she did — He had proved it already, hadn’t he?
Only then, once she believed that He didn’t condemn her — only then — does He also say, “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus took her sin seriously. He called it what it was. He told her she needed to stop. He didn’t duck the issue at all.
But He loved her first. He met her needs first. He stood between her and her accusers first.
So should we.