Givers of Grace
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Digitus secundus manus. Otherwise known as the index finger. Forefinger. Pointer finger. Secundus because technically it’s the second finger, the thumb, digitus primus, being the first. All our fingers work together, so it’s difficult to say which, if any, excluding the thumb, is the most important. If we lost any one of them, we could get along (though the pinkie finger, which is opposable to the thumb, would be hard to do without). But think about how often you use your index finger in any given day.
Pointer fingers were busy this day. Jesus was teaching in the temple courts when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law brought in a woman who had been “caught in the act” of adultery. Where was her partner in this illicit activity? Where were the witnesses? Absent. The authorities reminded Jesus of the law that required stoning adulterers, knowing that if he supported the punishment he would have violated Roman law, which forbade Jews from carrying out a death sentence, and if he rejected it they would have accused him of being unsupportive of the Law of Moses. All fingers pointed at the woman, who did not deny her guilt. All eyes looked to Jesus. “What do you say?”
He said nothing. Instead, he bent down and began writing on the ground with his finger. Presumably his pointer finger. The authorities continued nagging him, demanding a response. Finally, he straightened up and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down and continued writing. Gradually, the men began to disperse, beginning with the older ones. Did watching Jesus write in the sand bring to their minds the account of God’s hand writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast? Was Jesus listing the sins of all those present, the ways they had been found wanting, and as the men recognized themselves in those words they felt shame or even fear?
Finally, Jesus and the woman were alone. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” And the only person qualified to condemn her, the only one who was without sin, declared, “Then neither do I. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus did not excuse her behavior, but he declined to punish her for it. Instead, he offered grace. A clean start. A second chance. He offers all who confess their sins a clean start. A generous helping of grace. He is the only one qualified to condemn, and he is the only one qualified to forgive, for every offense, every act of wrongdoing, is first an offense against him. The adulterous woman didn’t know that, but it didn’t matter. Jesus knew, and he forgave.
There’s a saying: when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. Maybe the Pharisees and teachers of the law realized that, as they read the words Jesus doodled in the sand. Nobody is innocent. Everyone sins. That’s so easy to forget, isn’t it? When we are outraged by another person’s behavior, our pulse rising in righteous indignation, we forget that we are far from innocent ourselves. Think about social media, where finger pointing can so quickly escalate to stone throwing, if only figuratively. As we defend our position and berate or belittle those who disagree, we forget that we could be wrong, and even if we’re right, we can be uncharitable. We forget that Jesus offered us grace in his ultimate act of sacrifice. Because he freed us from sin, not holding our wrongdoing against us, we can extend such freedom to those who wrong us. We can let some of that grace that Jesus lavishes on us overflow into the world, healing and mending and restoring, and in every act of mercy and forgiveness, expanding the kingdom of God on earth.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship. Children’s Worship and nursery care available; Discovery Hour is on summer break.