We can go many directions when thinking about the story of the woman caught in adultery. Today I want to look at this story in the light of a game most of us play – the comparison game.
I don’t think the religious leaders who brought the woman to Jesus cared either about her or her sin. Their primary interest was in getting Jesus to say or do something that would provide them with justification for killing Him. They felt safe in making the accusation, because they had done a comparison. Her sin was clearly greater than any of theirs, assuming they had any, because the penalty for her sin was death. We may not drag someone in front of the congregation, but don’t we often have a similar attitude toward others and their sin. I think we need an uncommon perspective.
Getting caught is the best thing that ever happens to most of us. It provides us with an opportunity to confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. Unfortunately, even getting caught doesn’t always lead us in the right direction. One of the things that derails us is comparison. When confronted with our own sin we often turn our focus toward others and look for justification in evaluating their sin as greater than ours. This creates two difficulties which both weaken us and the community of believers. The first is that others are reluctant to confess to us, because their expectation is that they will be looked down upon. The second is that we will be reluctant to confess to others for the same reason. There is no grace in comparison.
I’ve been reading Life Together by Dietrick Bonhoeffer and I think this quote from the end of the book relates directly to this tendency. He has been writing about the power and importance of confession in our lives in community.
Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession.
When I examine myself in the shadow of the cross I am no longer a judge, but simply a fellow sinner. There is no place for comparison, because my brother or sister and I are all sinners saved by grace. From this place that we share I can help the person confessing to me, not by ignoring the sin, but by confronting it and encouraging repentance and the seeking of forgiveness.
Jesus saved the woman from the crowd by forcing them to make a different comparison. Some say he wrote the 10 Commandments in the dirt. It seems very likely. In the process, they were caught and offered a choice. All sin has the same ultimate consequence and that is separation from God. Someone has written that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. I agree and when I remember that I’m less likely to compare.