There Is Now No Condemnation, but Go and Sin No More.

When Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you,” it isn’t the end of the story.

I have been thinking lately about the phrase, “Do not go on sinning.” These were the words Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery after he rescued her from her accusers. We forget about them, perhaps, because of the force of the rest of the story.

The Pharisees brought her to Jesus one day and challenged him: “’Teacher,’ they said to Jesus [with a hint of affected deference, I imagine], ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’”

They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus was not shaken or disturbed by the dilemma they posed him. He stooped to write in the dust with his finger.

The awkward silence was broken finally by a demand for an answer. Jesus obliged,

“Alright, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

John 8:7

Significantly, Jesus didn’t deny what the Law says. His answer implied agreement with the judgment of the Law, but his answer turned the table on the accusers and focused attention on them.

His answer is reminiscent of apportion of the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray and of a segment of the Sermon on the Mount:

“And forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Matt. 6:12

“[I]n the same way you judge others, you will be judged….”

Matt. 7:2

The pregnant silence continued again, as Jesus returned to writing in the dust with this finger. This time, the demands for an answer slipped away with the accusers, one by one, leaving alone with the accused woman.

The focus of the encounter had shifted dramatically from the adulterous woman to her accusers. Their self-righteous smugness turned to bitter disappointment and shame as Jesus put them in their place.

Now alone with the woman, Jesus asked her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”; “No, Lord,” she replied. “Then, “Neither do I,” Jesus said.

This seems to be the perfect way for Jesus to end the story. The accusers of the adulterous woman were sinners too. When Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, none of them could do it. They knew they would be condemning themselves. What Jesus wrote in the sand must have hit home with them.

The story would be perfect if it ended there, right? Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world, says he doesn’t condemn the adulteress woman either!

But that isn’t the end of the story. The story ends with Jesus adding, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Those words hang there now for me, as I imagine they did for the woman.

What wisdom and command of the situation Jesus had shown! The pompous self-righteousness of the religious leaders who used this poor woman as a ploy to back Jesus into a corner was deflated. The public humiliation and shame she must have felt was heaped back on her accusers in divine vindication. The gentleness with which he treated her and affirmed her value is beautiful.

But, when the men had left, and she was alone with Jesus, he left her with the instruction, “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus didn’t condemn her, but Jesus didn’t release her to go back to the lifestyle and choices she had made to that point. Why not?

The words, “go and sin no more”, haunt me as I think about myself and how easily I fall into sinful attitudes and stumble. It would so much easier if Jesus hadn’t tagged those five words on to the end of this story!

Continue reading “There Is Now No Condemnation, but Go and Sin No More.”

Jesus Wept with Mary, Though He Knew the Joy to Come

We live in a world in which Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing that he was going to raise him from the dead.


NT Wright commented to Justin Brierley in the 39th episode of Ask NT Wright Anything, “We live in a world in which Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing that he was going to raise him from the dead.”

Jesus was able to identify with and feel the crushing sorrow and the intense grief that the family and friends of Lazarus felt. When Jesus saw Mary, the sister of Lazarus weeping, he wept too. (John 11:32-33) Jesus felt her grief, and it moved him to tears.

Jesus weeping at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, of course, reveals his humanity, his empathy and the fact that he felt the range of human emotions that we feel in our own lives. Imagine God taking on our form and experiencing what we experience!

The most remarkable aspect of this story, for me, is that Jesus felt the grief of the loss of a loved one and was moved to tears even though he knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He wept with grief though he know that joy would follow the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

In this way, we see that God doesn’t minimize our grief and suffering. He is able to identify with it because he felt the crush of it as we feel it.

He felt the crush of human grief even though he knew the miracle he was about to perform.

Perhaps, Jesus was weeping for all the people who feel grief without assurance or confidence or hope. Surely, Jesus had more than merely hope. He knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he also realized that his friends, the friends and family of Lazarus, didn’t know or appreciate what he was about to do.

Even though Jesus told the friends of Lazarus that he was doing “to wake him up” (John 11:11), and he told Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” they didn’t fully understand or appreciate what Jesus was saying. (John 11:23) They didn’t feel the assurance or confidence or hope that Jesus had.

I imagine Jesus also thought in those moments of all the people in the world who mourn without assurance, confidence or hope in the face of death. This is the human condition, and Jesus fully embraced it. He fully felt the weight of it, and it caused him to weep with them.

Continue reading “Jesus Wept with Mary, Though He Knew the Joy to Come”

At the Curve of a Waterfall: Matter Flowing Through Us

Harrison Wright Falls at Ricketts Glen State Park by Chris A. Fraley

A person posed this question to N.T Wright: “If my body decays, and goes on to become reconstituted into plants and animals and things, what remains? What is essentially me?” NT Wright responded by noting, first, that Tertullian and Origen discussed this question in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and CS Lewis picked up the same theme in the 20th century in his book, Miracles.

CS Lewis who observed that fingernails and hair, skin and the entire the human body is always in a condition of flux. “Bodies change their entire molecular kit once about every seven (7) years”, Wright summarized.

I am not the same person physically that I was when I was born, or graduated from college at age 22, or graduated from law school at age 31 or when my last child was born when I was 39. I am not the same person, physically, at 60, as I was when I was 39.

All of the molecules in my body have switched out many times over those years, yet I am still recognizably me. Maybe a bit larger, with gray hair and visibly aged from my mid-twenties, but I am still me even though none of the same molecules exist in my 60-year body.

NT Wright re-phrased the question in different ways: If a ship goes into a port and one year later, after all parts of it have been replaced, it goes into port again, is it the same ship? If my grandfather has a spade, and replaces the blade and handle several times, is it the still the same spade?

I don’t know about a ship or a spade, but as for me, I know that I am still me even though I don’t have a single molecule left over from my 22-year old self. I have more experiences; I have gained more memories. People can in my body and mind some resemblance of the “me” they might remember.

Though memories aren’t physical things I can show anyone, I can describe them, and people who share those experiences with me can identify them. Those nonphysical memories are undeniably “part” of “me” – things I have picked up along the way in addition to the extra weight weight in physical body.

CS Lewis says that people are like the curve in a waterfall. There is continuity of form but discontinuity of matter. Matter pours through us. The “us” matter pours through is the real thing – not the matter.

On this day six (6) years ago, Facebook informs me that I posted this quotation from CS Lewis:

“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”

I don’t know if CS Lewis is exactly right, but he is getting at the same idea – that we are something more than our physical selves. We aren’t reducible to our physical selves. Our physical selves aren’t even made up of the same molecules that once existed. Not one molecule remains from my 22-year old self – yet my self remains.

This mystery is extended in death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God promises to give us new bodies. Our bodies will be changed, Scripture says, but each one of us will remain the same person and be recognizable. Biblical scholars say we will be more fully us then we were before.

In a sense, it’s like the person who comments about someone who is sick, saying, “He is jus a shadow of himself.” Except, the perspective will be reversed. We will see that our bodies were just a shadow of what we will become. Wright says there is a “real you” that is much more like you, vividly more like you, then you are now.

Getting around to attempt an answer to the question posed, NT Wright says, “Nowhere in the New Testament does it describe a soul leaving a body and going to heaven.” What does he mean?

Continue reading “At the Curve of a Waterfall: Matter Flowing Through Us”

Where Are You Going?

Where we are going is more about the journey than the destinations, and the journey is about who we are becoming.

I read recently in the book, Gospel Justice, about the parable of the good Samaritan. The book focused on the priest who failed to cross the road to help an injured man. Bruce Strom offers a few possibilities about where the priest was going and why he was in too big of a hurry to help the injured man.

As I reflect back on what Bruce wrote, I can imagine God asking the question to the priest that hangs in the air: where are you going?

Where are you going?

God might ask that question not because He doesn’t know. God knows our every move and the words we are about to speak even before we say them. God might ask that question because He wants us to stop and think about it.

Where are you going?

Most people would have an answer of course. My 20-year-old might say that she is going to take a semester off of college to work, not knowing what college will look like in the fall with the virus outbreak still ongoing. My 25-year-old might say he is taking a year off before starting grad school. My 27-year-old might say that he is working, saving enough money for a security deposit, and the first and last months of rent for an apartment that he will need if he gets the job as a grad assistant that he has applied for.

My 30-year-old might say he is going into his second year of seminary. My 33-year-old might say he is going to keep mulching and working from home until the stay-at-home order is lifted and he can go back to work. My 34-year-old might say that he is going to patent a UV light that kills the coronavirus.

We might have longer term answers, too. I joke that I am going to work until I am 80 to pay off the college debt I incurred for my kids. I think about the possibility of retirement, as remote as it seems.

The priest in the parable might have been going home or going to church or going to visit a friend. He might have even being going to help someone in need. The priest might have had a good destination in mind, but the parable is clearly meant to contrast the priest to the “Good Samaritan”.

Of course, “good” and “Samaritan” were two words that Jews in first century Judea would not have put together. Samaritans were heretics and second-class citizens in the Jewish world at that time.

And of course, Jesus chose a Samaritan to drive home the point that the Good Samaritan, not the priest, did the “right” thing in that parable. He did the better thing. He stopped to help the injured man on the side of the road.

It didn’t matter where the priest was going, ultimately; he passed up the divine opportunity to help the man right in front of him.

If God was asking the priest, “Where are you going?” I don’t think he would be looking for the immediate answer. If the priest said he was going to the temple to perform his priestly duties, I think God might have asked him again, “Where are you going?”

We all have places to go, things to do, people to see. We all have goals and aspirations. I imagine God asking this question, not about the destinations, goals and aspirations we have planned, but about the journey: what direction are you moving in?

When two of my sons were wrestling, I would sometimes say to them (and myself): “It’s not about the winning and losing; it’s about the journey.”

The ultimate question about the journey of life is this: Who are you becoming?

Continue reading “Where Are You Going?”

God and the Impossibility of Goodness

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be good enough for God.

The story of the rich young ruler resonates with me today in the seeming impossibility of living without sin. I suspect that I am not alone in the experience of certain sinful inclinations that I just can’t seem to shake. Try as I might, I fall into the same traps of temptation over and over again. I get angry at myself. I ask for forgiveness. I renew my resolve, but I inevitably trip and fall. And sometimes I despair.

God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Gal. 6:7-8)

I know this, but it doesn’t seem to help. My sinful flesh often overcomes the spirit within me. While the spirit is often willing, the flesh is weak; and sometimes, let’s be honest, my spirit isn’t as willing as it should be.

I think, “If I could just resist more and try harder and find just the right combination of thoughts and habits and resolve, I could lick this thing.” But, days come and go. Things change: busyness, or worry, or distraction, or boredom, or some dryness in my spiritual life, or difficulty, or disappointment or any number of things (or a combination of them) sets in, and when my guard is down, temptation comes and catches me off guard in a moment of weakness.

I truly believe it is possible to overcome the sin within me. Scripture seems to require it of me. What I reap I will sow. Yet I fail. I fully identify with Paul, who said:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15-19)

Continue reading “God and the Impossibility of Goodness”