A few weeks ago I was chatting with some friends, talking about this and that. Before I knew it I was throwing stony judgments left and right, trashing and bashing people for breaking vows, being greedy, ignoring the poor, being judgmental [that’s a good one, isn’t it?].
Then a friend mentioned something he had heard about the book of James. The main message James wants to get across is that instead of me being concerned about my needs and other people’s morality, I should do the reverse. I should worry about my morality and other people’s needs. Ouch.
I was convicted that much of my conversation has this mixed-up focus. I worry too much about other people’s morality and righteousness, or my own needs [including the need to feel justified, right, and self-righteous]. Conveniently this means I don’t have time to deal with my own morality–or the needs of others.
As I thought about all the judgmental comments I had made, I thought of John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. Jesus told the people who were ready to stone her: let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone. Well, that definitely counts me out.
In my self-rationalizing moments, I’d like to think that I wasn’t throwing stones that day when I was chatting with my friends, just pebbles. And then I remember the standard Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount: we’re to give up not just murder but anger, not just adultery but lust. So I am pretty sure He’d say that not throwing stones isn’t just about big stones but also little ones. Big sins and little sins both count.
Once all the woman’s accusers had left, Jesus told her He didn’t condemn her, and to go and sin no more. He didn’t say adultery wasn’t a sin, or that the woman hadn’t done anything wrong. He wasn’t changing the law or trying to make it smaller or more palatable.
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved… But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” [Matthew 5:17-18, 20]
Jesus is not looking for me to change the law; instead He wants me to change my response to people who break the law. He doesn’t want me to throw stones at them or to condemn them. In other words, He wants me to imitate Him.
We wear crosses to remind ourselves of the way Jesus died when He gave us His righteousness. But someone once said that a cross is an outmoded symbol for us. Back in Jesus’ day that was how the death penalty was carried out. Now it would be more relevant to wear a miniature gas chamber or hypodermic needle or gun around my neck.
Or I could start wearing a stone on a string as a symbol of the first stone, the one I’m never going to throw because I too am guilty and deserve to be condemned.
That’s why in my First Stone Church, as a reminder, I’d have a basket of stones at the entrance. Because the gospel is about putting down our stones, and dealing with our own sin. Because I need God’s grace and mercy as much as the person I’m throwing stones at. Because Jesus came to call the sick, not the healthy, those who deserve to be stoned, not those who think they have no sin. Because I too need to go and sin no more.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! James 2:12-13
[edited from the archives]