“Go and Sin No More”? You don’t get to say that. Ever.

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We hear it all the time. We can argue the grace and forgiveness of Jesus till the cows come home, how he forgave the woman caught in adultery. “Neither do I condemn you.” “See how gracious Jesus is?” we say. And then some smart Christian inevitably comes back with, “Yeah, but he also said, ‘Go and sin no more.'”

And there goes the image of a gracious Jesus out the window. Like a political ad for local politician: “Jesus: not soft on crime, not soft on sin.” Might as well just go back to Levitical law.

This morning, though, a new thought dropped into my head. I’d been talking about random things with God, and somewhere in the back of my head I must have had this annoying scenario playing out. Yeah, I HAD just read that recently in one of those Christian forums on Facebook. The topic was “gays and Christianity,” as it always seems to be these days, and some guy threw that back in someone’s face: “Go and sin no more.” Annoyed me, but I walked away, not wanting to engage in that pointless discussion for the millionth time.

So I guess the thought wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it did surprise me anyway. Wasn’t expecting that. Wasn’t even actively asking God about it. But you know, when you’re just chatting with God over your morning coffee, he’ll throw things at you you weren’t expecting.

go_and_sin_no_more“You don’t get to say that. Only Jesus can say that to someone.” Just like when he said a few moments before to the crowd who wanted to kill the poor woman, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and they all walked away, recognizing their own failings and weaknesses. Jesus was the only one there who qualified. He was the only one there without sin, so he was the only one qualified to throw a stone — and he chose not to. Now THERE’S an image of grace for you: “the only one qualified to condemn you chooses not to.”

Then, when the crowd has all gone their separate ways, he turns back to the terrified woman crouched on the ground, humiliated, embarrassed, shamed. And he says these wonderful, tender words to her. “Where are your accusers?” — Hey, look. He makes the point himself: he is NOT one of her accusers. — “Neither do I condemn you.” And then the words thrown back at us gay believers too many times: “But go and sin no more.” Well, Jesus never says the “but.” It’s not a condition or a contradiction. His grace isn’t conditional on our perfection.

Here’s the kicker. The only one who was qualified to throw the stone, the only one qualified to condemn her, is also the only one who gets to say “go and sin no more.”

The rest of us are too imperfect, too guilty of our own shortcomings. We’re in no position to judge anybody. Kinda like that thing he said to another crowd somewhere else: “First take care of the log in your own eye before you try to remove the splinter from someone else’s.” So, we’re also in no position to tell someone else to stop sinning. Ever — or at least until we’ve reached perfection ourselves.

So the next time some argumentative Christian throws that line in your face — “Jesus also said to go and sin no more” — you can respond, “the only person who gets to say that to me is the only one qualified to throw that first stone. And it isn’t you.”

Go in peace. You are LOVED — and He isn’t one of your accusers.


photo credit: Jesus and the Woman, from : The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos (LDS)

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STEVE SCHMIDT is a Bible teacher at Expressions.Today in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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24 thoughts on ““Go and Sin No More”? You don’t get to say that. Ever.

  1. Loved this, Steve! Thanks for sharing. You always make be think so far beyond my frame. Thought you might appreciate this. It’s from a blog in process by Rob Bell. He, too, pushes my boundaries……..

    Part 8: Stoners and Swingers
    We’ve been looking at a number of stories from the Hebrew scriptures so far, stories I wanted you to see in a new light. Now, let’s look at a story from the gospels about Jesus and then, after that, we’ll gradually begin to identify the thread that connects them all.
    So. Stoners and Swingers.(A good title is half the battle, isn’t it?) A woman gets caught mid-shag, the religious police bring her-but not the fella-in to the temple area and they make her stand before the group, trying to trap Jesus into saying that she should be stoned ACCORDING TO THE LAW (I have no idea why I CAPS LOCKED that). Jesus, however, bends down and writes on the ground. (A classic example of what is Jesus doing? Right up there with rubbing mud on the eyes and his first post-resurrection line You guys got some food?) He then says
    Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,
    he writes some more on the ground, the men start to leave until it’s just Jesus and the woman, he asks her if any one condemns her, she says no, he tells her that he doesn’t either and she should should leave her life of sin.
    End of story.
    So, what was he writing on the ground?
    Ready? Because this will take some time. This story about the woman and the crowd that want to stone her is found at the beginning of The Gospel of John, chapter 8 (But not in the earliest manuscripts. Hmmmm.). If you back up to the previous chapter, chapter 7, you read that it was the time of the Festival of Tabernacles.
    The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the seven major feasts on the Hebrew calendar. (See Leviticus 23 for a somewhat concise overview.) There were spring feasts and fall feasts, organized around the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting. (Feasts were common in the ancient world in agricultural societies-people set aside particular times to thank the gods and ask the gods for continued bounty.)
    The Spring Feasts were
    Passover, then
    Unleavened Bread, then
    First Fruits, then
    Pentecost.
    The Fall Feasts were
    Trumpets, then
    Atonement, then
    Tabernacles.
    The Feast of Tabernacles, then, was the last feast of the year, and the last of the fall feasts. As the last of the fall feasts, it was the feast before the winter, when hopefully rains would come and water the crops so they’d grow so that in the spring you’d have a harvest-and something to celebrate and give thanks for at the spring feasts. Thousands of pilgrims in the first century would pour into Jerusalem for the eight days of feasting, staying in makeshift shelters (Hebrew sukkots) that represented how their God had cared for their people many years earlier when they had journeyed in the wilderness (That story is told in the Book of Exodus). During the eight days there were sacrifices and singing and special rituals, oriented around asking God to bring the winter rains so they’d have food come spring. The religious leaders would teach during these eight days about the significance of water-water as rain, water and thirst, thirst as a metaphor for spiritual longing. Lots of teaching about water. The eight days all built up to the last day, when the high priest would take a pitcher of water and a pitcher of wine and pour them together over the altar while the crowd chanted
    Hosannah! Hosannah!
    Hosannah means God save us, as in, God please bring us the winter rains to save us from drought and famine. (Later Hosannah began to have political connotations, as in God, save us from the Romans who have invaded our land!)
    With that in mind, notice this line from chapter 7
    On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice
    Why is he speaking in a loud voice? Because it’s the last day and the crowd would have been chanting loudly. He wants to be heard over the noise of the gathered throng.
    And what does he say in his outside voice?
    Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
    Boom! He chooses this moment, a moment when people were focused on their very real physical needs for water, and calls them to their spiritual thirst, thirst he insists he can do something about. (Is this why earlier in the chapter he tells his brothers to go to the Festival and he stays back, telling them the time isn’t right? He’s waiting for the last day to make his speech with the ritual of the priest pouring the wine and water and the crowd chanting about their need for a savior as a backdrop? Brilliant. Just brilliant. The theatrics alone are fantastic.)
    Thousands of people, feasting and drinking and living in make-shift shelters on the side of the hill in Jerusalem. Basically, religious camping. With a lot of wine involved.
    And what often happens when lots of people drink and camp together?
    Can you see how two people might end up in the wrong tent-regretting decisions they made the night before? It’s not surprising, then, that the next morning the teachers of the law and the Pharisees drag a woman into the the temple courts who they’d caught with a man she wasn’t married to…
    They drag this woman the morning after to Jesus because they want to trap him. They don’t believe in him, they’ve rejected him, they want to expose him as a fraud. And so they challenge him with a passage from the law.
    And then he bends down and writes on the ground.
    And what does he write?
    Well, what have the Pharisees and teachers of the law been doing this past eight days?
    They’ve been at the feast.
    And what have they been doing at the feast?
    They’ve been teaching, right?
    And what have they been teaching?
    They’ve been teaching about water.
    What passages would they have been teaching?
    Interesting you ask. One of the passages that was taught at the Feast of Tabernacles is from the prophet Jeremiah. The passage is about dust, which is what you have if you don’t have water. Here are a few lines
    LORD, you are the hope of Israel;
    all who forsake you will be put to shame.
    Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust…
    So what does Jesus do? He takes one of the passages they all would have been familiar with and he turns it on them, all without saying a word. Here is living water, in their midst, inviting them to trust him, but they don’t believe him. They try to trap him. They teach about God and water and hope and new life but when it arrives in their midst in a person they hadn’t expected, they can’t do it. They cling to the familiar, rejecting the living water that’s right in front of them.
    What does Jesus write on the ground?
    Their names.

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