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Better Than Judgement
by Dan Kidd
There's a verse at the center of this passage, both literally and figuratively, that incisively calls out the misguided, if not rebellious, behavior of the Pharisees towards Jesus. "You [Pharisees] judge by human standards; I [Jesus] pass judgement on no one." These Pharisees will not--in fact, cannot--accept Jesus' testimony about himself (in spite of the overwhelming evidence), because Jesus breaks mold after mold of what they can feasibly imagine a rabbi, a Son of Man, and especially a messiah would be like. Perhaps they simply lacked interpretive imagination? Maybe the implications of Jesus being the messiah, and the announcements he proclaimed being true, were too consequential to the cultural order the Pharisees had come to thrive in? At any rate, Jesus calls it for what it is: judgementalism; and blind judgementalism at that.
Many New Testament copies will note that John 7:53-8:11 is absent from, or only partially included in, earlier manuscripts of John. The story of the woman caught in adultery does seem to be unstylishly bookended by one, ongoing conversation/episode between the Pharisees, chief priests, and temple guards; all of them quarreling over whether Jesus ought to be believed or condemned. But, there is thematic value in the way that Jesus responds to this woman. That is, Jesus refused to join the Pharisees in their punitive, righteous judgement over the women caught in adultery. Rather, Jesus invites them, any one of them, who would claim themselves entirely righteous-entirely prepared to invite unmitigated judgment on themselves-to go ahead and throw a stone. None of them wanted that.
Fortunately, we never struggle over judging others, right? Well, maybe sometimes. On occasions where judgement is clearly warranted. There are, after all, plenty of things that are directly opposite to the way and will of God. There are sinful activities and thoughts of the flesh. Love has enemies and so often we're falling (on our faces) short of the glory of God. Surely a little judgement is warranted here and there; now and again?
Yes and no. It is neither truthful or loving to pretend that sinfulness, brokenness, pain, and despair don't exist or shouldn't be attended to. Surely the multitude of sin's consequences warrants judgement against sinfulness. Judgement, in that sense, discerning good from bad, Christlike from flesh-like, is necessary for us to imitate Christ and participate in the Kingdom work God is up to. But somehow Christ is making a distinction between that kind of discernment and the judgementalism of the Pharisees. And some of that has to do with the same prejudicial categorizing that excused their rejection of Jesus. But Jesus defies these small, fictitious prejudicial categories.
"People caught in sinful adultery deserve punishment, not mercy or restoration." Not true.
"Religious, rule-following people ought to stand in judgment over clearly sinful people." Not true.
"The Messiah cannot come from Galilea, nor can Jesus be trusted to testify about himself (despite all the evidence)." Not true.
When our axioms, no matter how reasonable we find them, are so rigid that new evidence won't change our hearts and minds, especially the kind of evidence that comes from God's upside-down Kingdom, we are in trouble. But when we look with eyes to see and listen with ears to hear, and we refuse to succumb to the prejudices that feel so natural, we will come to know and love our neighbors and our God as God intends.
Son of God, make us to be like you. Shape in us eyes like yours, that look on not in condemnation, but in hope and love. Help us to discern between what is good and what is bad, and guide us into the good streams of eternal and abundant life. Cause love and mercy to overwhelm our propensities to judge and hurt, as these are your good fruit. And thank you for being Truth and Love to us and for us.