Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.
Often when I talk with people about neighbor love and enemy love,
the question comes up,
the same question,
“If I’m supposed to love people then how do I tell them that they’re wrong?”
There is always some formulation of this question in every conversation about loving well.
We love retribution and judgment and condemnation…
Of those people.
The other question that almost always comes up in conversations I have with people about he Bible is, “Why were certain books left out of the Bible, you know manuscripts that we have found over the years?” Usually, I talk about the process a bit and also how there is a qualitative difference between the texts. This part of the Bible, John 7:53-8:11 is in italics in almost all of your Bibles or will have brackets around it. Why? Because scholars are pretty sure that it was not in the original manuscript of John. But, the church has chosen to leave it in because it is qualitatively worth keeping in the text and it tracks with the subversive gracious love of Jesus.
This little story brings together these two questions that I get most often in my ministry.
The subversive gracious love of Jesus is one that meets people exactly where they are at.
Consider the scene, the religious leaders of the day brought to him a woman that they had snatched out of the bed of a man she was sleeping with. Best guess, she had a sheet around her, but probably not clothed. They only brought the woman and not the man (it takes two to tango, lest we forget).
What does Jesus do?
He meets all of them with subversive gracious love.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again, imagine the scene, these bloodthirsty men were in the mood for a good stoning. They were met not with the Jesus who cleansed the Temple courtyard, but with a quiet teacher kneeling in the dirt and writing. What was he writing? Nobody will ever know, but his words stopped them cold.
What happens next? The oldest leave first followed by everyone else.
The reality is that none of us are without sin. We are all infected with sin-sickness. That sin-sickness can’t be healed apart from a subversive gracious love.
Jesus stood up. In that moment he probably stood to look at her square in the face. In that moment, he meets her where she is in subversive gracious love.
“Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.”
He didn’t need to tell her that she was doing wrong. She needed to know that she wasn’t condemned and that she was free to live and then he called her to change.
This is what it looks like to practice a subversive gracious love. It is to meet people where they are and then invite them to change. That is, to invite them into the best versions of themselves, to flourish as human beings.
This is what Jesus wanted for her.
There was an authenticity to it.
There was a lovingkindness to it.
There was no condemnation in it.
There was simply an invitation to live differently.
Subversive gracious love is strong, valiant, and authentic. It is also tender, meek, and kind. Subversive gracious love moves beyond the dualism of condemnation to transformation.
My friends, let us love like Jesus. Let us be a people who practice subversive gracious love.
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