Glass houses. Who has not heard a parable involving the transparent substance? You know how it goes; if you live in a house made of it, you shouldn’t throw stones. Perhaps a thoughtful speaker may even point out to you that when your house is made of glass, people can see through your walls and your own faults are on display. Perhaps the speaker, presumably of a spiritual bent, chooses the stone throwing analogy because it ties in to the Biblical parable of Jesus scribbling in the sand. The speaker usually concludes their story, or lecture, with the admonishment that we are not to judge, since we are all sinners. Without exception, such a speaker misses the irony of their very proclamation, for in offering rebuke of others for judging (which is generally what is being done in a sermon) they are, themselves, passing judgment.
Such a sermon, or lecture, I recently endured. And at the risk of sounding frivolous, I can only invoke that most infamous but lovable loser, Charlie Brown, who frequently exclaimed in exasperation, “Good grief!”
I am often perplexed at the inability of sermonizers to grasp the duality of Jesus’ message when the adulterous woman was brought to him by a mob desiring blood. To be sure, Christ’s scribbling in the sand caused the angry crowd to disperse, ostensibly because their own sins were being detailed. This part of the story is generally over-emphasized, with the point almost always being that we are not to judge. If mentioned at all, the fact that Christ ended His own sandy lesson by instructing the woman to stop sinning is given far less time and attention. The end result is the impression that the woman caught in the act of adultery is good and forgiven, while the group that caught the adulterer in the act is bad, sent scurrying like so many rats when their own faults were exposed.
The intended message is clear; don’t judge anyone, for anything, because you are not perfect. But there’s a problem with this message, and it’s a big one when the message is being delivered from a church pulpit. That problem is that such a message is incomplete, at best. At worst, it simply doesn’t square with Scripture as a complete body of work. Rather, it is the result of an all too common tendency of those embracing liberal philosophies to manipulate the recipients of their message. The lecturer hopes those hearing the message will feel sufficient enough shame to silence them, thereby eliminating any wrongs (read sins) which they might be calling attention to from being addressed. Sadly, when such an agenda is successfully implemented, the resulting silence only serves to allow an erring members sin to become more deeply entrenched and in the process making it that much more difficult to correct.
The problem with this “don’t judge” philosophy should be obvious, in particular for church leadership, for if a particular wrong cannot be addressed, then no wrong should be addressed. Since we know this dynamic will never exist within the body of a church or any other human endeavor, we are then left to wonder why only certain wrongs receive attention and from whom. In other words, regardless of lectures to the contrary, judging is still done, but only by a few (generally leadership) and more importantly, the judging is applied to only a select few.
To better understand the misuse of the “casting the first stone” parable, one must properly frame the Scriptural account. Christ neither took the side of the adulterous woman nor her accusers, identifying both as sinners. To be sure, His actions were deliberate and designed to not only uncover the sins of the mob but the ulterior motives they held that made them hypocrites. His actions were also deliberate in granting forgiveness of the erring woman, just as He offers the same to each of us. But His intent in shaming the angry mob while granting forgiveness to the adulterer had little to do with the woman’s sin. His intent was to expose the motives of the scribes and Pharisees who stood as the woman’s accusers, for their purpose was not to identify and correct sin in another. Rather, their purpose was rooted in evil, intending to entrap Jesus, Himself, by testing His conformity to the Law of Moses which commanded the penalty of stoning for a sin such as adultery. If the mob truly held such expectations of Christ, it only proves they misunderstood His purpose, which was to save. Jesus, as only He can, knew the hearts of those demanding punishment of the adulterous woman. Most importantly, He understood it was He who was the true target of their scorn and not the sinful woman.
Equally as misunderstood as the “scribbling in the sand” parable is the nearly always misapplied Scripture of Matthew 7: 1, which is frequently coupled with the story of the adulterous woman. On face value, the message, “Judge not, that ye not be judged,” is clear. At least that is what the manipulative mindset which is liberalism would have you believe. In reality, the actual message stands in stark opposition to the suggestion that we are ignore sin in others simply because we are all sinners. The same chapter of the Gospel of Matthew tells us in verse 16, “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” and again in verse 20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Of course, if we are to know one fruit from another, there is a judgment necessary, and that judgment is whether or not the fruit is good, as found in verses 17-19.
The ramifications of such a policy of silence extend beyond the existing church family. If, by virtue of our sinful state we are to remain quiet regarding the sin of others, is not our most solemn responsibility as Christians then forsaken, that is to spread His word to a dying world? Why? Because, while the greater part of the Gospel message is salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, an equally important component is the necessity of the sinner to turn away from their sin. This simply cannot be accomplished if we are unwilling, or prevented from pointing out those things in a person’s life which are on display and sinful.
Finally, consider this. God wrote His commandments in stone for a reason. His purpose was to signify the eternal and unchanging nature of His words. In contrast, Jesus wrote in sand words which are easily erased by the brush of a hand, a blowing wind, the trampling of feet or vehicles, or perhaps a cleansing rain. His purpose was to signify the forgiveness of sin which He paid so dearly for. The former example remains the standard for all Christians, one which we must hold each other accountable to, and therefore requires our judgment. The latter example remains the realm of the Savior, alone.
Only He can save. Only He can judge the heart. As for behaviors and actions, judge we can and judge we must.