“Drop Your Stones” – Brad Jersak

“Drop your stones.” 

Did you catch the reference? Many readers will recognize that phrase as an allusion to John 8, where Jesus’ opponents drag a woman into the Temple—they’ve caught her (or framed her) on the charge of adultery. Under the law, they could stone her to death. But in fact, the plan was to trap Jesus in a double bind. “Shall we stone her?” If he says no, he’s guilty of abolishing the Law of Moses. And if he says yes, he’s abandoned his prophetic stand for the law of mercy.

You may remember his beautiful one-liner: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus kneels beside the woman and begins to write in the dust. One by one, the mob disperses until every last condemner is gone, after which he releases this dear woman to a fresh start. 

Today, a young man wrote me, tormented by memories of his sinful past, guilt-ridden and stuck in self-loathing. Believe me, I get it. As I read his lament, what came to mind first was the phrase, “Drop your stones.” I needed to say it to him, as I often need to say it to myself. 

That thought spurred me to share with our readers a particular layer of biblical interpretation that can help us internalize the gospel. Jewish rabbis and Christian teachers alike have used it for centuries, and we would do well to emulate them. It’s just one layer, but for my young friend, it’s important and helpful.

The basic idea is that every Gospel story not only actually happened historically (I believe the eyewitness testimonies) but is also a microcosm of the gospel message itself. The first order of business is, therefore, to ask how. An easy sample comes from the next chapter (John 9), where Jesus opens the eyes of a blind man. But he also tells us that the healing is a picture of how the Good News also opens spiritually blind eyes. He transposes the real event into a spiritual parable. There’s a universal meaning to the actual encounter. That’s why John the Beloved calls Jesus’ miracles “signs.” They point beyond the particular moment toward the eternal truth. 

John 8 is fairly simple to understand in this light. When the woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus, he doesn’t condemn her. And he won’t condemn you either. That’s the Gospel in the nutshell of this brief story. In that way, the actual events of Jesus’ ministry can be read as parables of the kingdom. 

But we’re not quite done. The rabbis and the ‘fathers’ of old (e.g., Ephraim of Syria) suggest we internalize the story as descriptive of Jesus’ work in our hearts.* We already started by identifying with the woman. Easy enough. But there’s more: notice my statement to my young friend: “Drop the stones.” What does that mean? 

I’m asking him to recognize he not only plays the role of the vulnerable position of the woman—part of him is also holding the stones, determined to condemn. In his heart, a battle is raging between the hated and the hater. It’s a lot like seeing how we can be both the older and younger brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. In this case, we’re both the terrified sinner and the self-righteous judge… all at once.

Gratefully, there’s Someone else at work in the story—the same Savior who lives in you and me and in my friend. He’s not just speaking to us from the pages of our Bibles. He speaks from within our hearts. He’s saying, first to our self-loathing inner judge, “Drop the stones,” and then to the broken and ashamed parts of our hearts, “Neither do I condemn you.” 

Reading Gospel stories as if each character not only lived in first-century Judea—but also symbolizes our complex inner world—helps us to internalize the gospel and attune our hearts to the voice of “Christ-in-us” as he goes about the work of transformation. 

Of course, this layer of interpretation is highly subjective. We’re making no claims about the author’s intent (the literal sense). But this ancient approach to reading the Gospels helps us appropriate the Good News in a way that God’s Spirit speaks to and heals our hearts. It deliberately personalizes our encounter with Jesus in the text. Ultimately, we test the value of such readings by their fruit, noting especially in this passage how it frees us from the condemnation of Christless religion—both as its hapless victim and also as the stone-holding perpetrator. And finally, it points us back to Jesus, and that’s good fruit! If you’ll just “drop your stones.” 

* Note: sometimes, this layer of interpretation is called the “tropological interpretation” or more simply, “the moral reading.”      

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