Mike’s Meditations: Put Jesus in Context

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by Mike Van Vranken

We’ve all done it. You know, take a bit of scripture that we love to remember and use it for our own justification. And, many times, if we had used the entire scripture rather than our out-of-context phrase, the message might convict rather than absolve us. Additionally, it is so much easier to spot this type of misinterpretation when others do it rather than when we choose to do so ourselves.

Recently I read an article and made the mistake of reading the online comments. Over and over I heard their voices shouting: “Jesus said to ‘go and sin no more!’” Of course, it is an impossible command to keep. Have any of us been able to “go and sin no more?” I certainly haven’t. Jesus did say some form of, “go and do not sin any more” in the gospel – twice. On one occasion it was to a man who couldn’t walk and Jesus cured, the other was to a woman caught in adultery. Both are found in John’s gospel where Jesus mentions sin about 16 times. Interestingly, in Matthew’s gospel he only mentions sin four times, once in Mark and not at all in Luke.

Let’s put the “sin no more” comment from Jesus back in the context of John’s gospel and see how it might look a little different. I’ll use John 8:1-11. Jesus is in the Temple area and the Scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery. They reminded Jesus of the law where Moses had commanded to stone such a woman. He responded with his famous words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Of course, Jesus is not only speaking to this woman’s accusers, he is speaking to you and me as well. In this passage, he is not allowing anyone to punish another person. In fact, I cannot remember any passage where Jesus calls on us to punish others. The story continues with the Scribes and the Pharisees walking away and leaving the woman alone with Jesus.

Stop now, take a deep breath and imagine you are in this scene watching and listening to our Savior and this adulterous woman. She is standing by herself with the Son of God. She is looking in his eyes, perhaps suspiciously wondering why he took up for her and what he plans to do next. She may be worried about his intentions. Yet, he tenderly turns to her and says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, maybe with a scared and shaky voice: “No one, sir.” And then, in the sweetest, most compassionate words that can only come from an all-loving creator, with deep love in his eyes and gushing from his heart, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:10-11). Watch the tears begin to flow from her eyes. See and experience Jesus’ gracious and generous smile as she slowly backs away from Him and humbly walks off. Can you feel the freedom she is experiencing? Dare to ponder the joy and love that must now be running throughout her entire being. Can you witness the dramatic change that is overcoming her?

Does this surprise you to read this so familiar story this way? Would we expect anything else from Jesus? This is the man who commands His followers, several times in the gospel stories, to forgive over and over again. If He asks this from us, how much more will we experience it from Him? You may have even noticed that Jesus actually did not forgive this woman. Why? Because He never passed judgment on her to begin with. He never condemned her, so there was nothing to forgive. Rather than condemn and judge her, rather than preach to her, instead of reminding her of her sin, He confronted her with his love. He overshadowed her with his deep and abiding love. And, as St. Paul promised us: “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8).

The entire Bible is the passionate and intimate love story of God and His people. In the four gospels, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, shows us how to live this love as human beings. Yes, He surely called us to follow Him and all that He taught us. He even summed it up for us in these words: “Love one another. As I have loved you so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Let’s all pray for the grace to keep God’s story of relationship with his people, especially the gospels, in their proper context. It is the context of God’s unconditional love for us, which is shown over and over again in his mercy, compassion and forgiveness, and not in forms of punishment. Our role is to share this mercy, compassion and forgiveness with each other just as He has shared it with us.

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