Why Did Jesus Let the Adulterous Woman Go?
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They claimed that according to the law she should be stoned. They were right, Leviticus (20:10) and Deuteronomy (22:22) both demand that she be stoned. It was the law.
What does Jesus do? In typical fashion, He brings it back on them. He says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Something weird happened next, they all left. Obviously they heard the truth in Jesus' words and realized that, if this woman is guilty, they are too.
The teachers of the law were doing what was right according to the law. They based their whole lives on it and were desperately trying to be justified by it, but, they got it wrong. Even though they had correctly understood the letter of the law they did not understand the meaning of it or why it was law in the first place. They were too busy with the details to understand the reason it was law in the first place. They couldn't see God's big picture.
Maybe we get too caught up in policing sin. Maybe it isn't our job to bring sinners to God for judgment. Maybe it is our job to bring them to Jesus
I think we are doing the same thing today. Just like the pharisees did, we bring certain groups to God and expect Him to punish them for their sins (or worse, allow us to exact judgment). We forget that we too are guilty and should not throw any stones. Like the Pharisees did, we should walk away confused at the magnificence of God’s radical grace.
In the story of the adulterous woman, Jesus is the only one capable to pronounce judgment on her. Instead, He shows grace and mercy and tells the adulterous woman “go and sin no more”. Because He is the only one that is eligible to throw stones, and doesn't, His message of grace shines in a world of sin and judgment. It is His goodness that leads people to repentance, not stones.
Maybe we get too caught up in policing sin. Maybe it isn't our job to bring sinners to God for judgment. Maybe it is our job to bring them to Jesus so that they may feel what true grace and mercy feels like. Maybe it is our job to bring the sinners — ourselves and others — to sit at Levi’s table.
Who Was Levi and What Does It Mean To Eat at His Table?
Levi was a tax collector. In other words, a social pariah and traitor. A Hebrew, he unfairly collected taxes for the Roman empire from his own tribe. He betrayed His own people for something as frivolous as wealth. The Pharisees thanked God that they weren't like Levi and the other tax collectors. The rest of the people probably thought so too. People legitimately hated him, and for good reason.
Jesus told Levi, “Follow me” and then, I think, He invited Himself over to eat with him and the other tax collectors and sinners. We don't know everyone that was there but we do know the type of people that would be hanging out with Levi: Misfits, outcasts and sinners. The religious people noticed this and they criticized Jesus for it. They asked, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus' only response was to tell them that only sick people need doctors.
This voluntary lowering of His status for the benefit of the people is part of what makes Christianity unique. It's what makes grace so scandalous.
Jesus calls us and then fellowships with us even though we are tax collectors, gluttons, homosexuals, revilers, drunkards or whoever.
What Does This Mean For Us Sinners?
So, if Jesus is eating at Levi’s we need to be there and invite our friends there too. We have a choice, we are either eating with sinners or complaining with the pharisees and we need to be with those that Jesus is with. It is important to remember that we do not get an invite because we are better than the other sinners. We are the tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.
If Jesus accepted the sinner that would eventually become St. Matthew then He surely accepts everyone. It is Jesus' prerogative to transform people and everyone that encounters Him authentically will be.
A common theme in the Bible is God using the broken and unqualified, these examples are no different. We are no different.
We know how Jesus’ influence changed Levi’s life. He became a disciple of Jesus, he stuck around to witness the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Later, he would be used by God to write a Gospel. Likewise, consider that many believe the adulterous woman to be Mary Magdalene, if that is true then this woman that was caught in grievous sin became a follower of Christ and was with Him at the crucifixion and was the first witness to the resurrection. A common theme in the Bible is God using the broken and unqualified, these examples are no different. We are no different.
We should give the Pharisees a bit of a break though. Obviously they didn’t know how to understand Jesus. It was a major paradigm shift for them whereas we are firmly in the new covenant, what is our excuse?
Spread the gospel, even to sinners. Let God convict and transform them. If not, we may find that our Lord is reclining at their table enjoying a meal and we are outside wondering “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
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