Sometimes, the greatest thing holding people together is a common enemy.
Amongst friends, it usually works like this: someone hurts us and we gather our friends for support. What starts as love and support can quickly get overtaken by our mutual hatred for the person who hurt us.
Sharing hatred gives us a sense of power over our enemy and it makes us feel like we belong. We justify our grudge, bolstering it with our stories of “You’ll never believe what he did this time…” We use sarcasm and criticism to keep our enemy down in the dirt.
I’m guilty of this.
I wish this ended in middle school, but it doesn’t. Here we are, full-grown adults, nurturing our bitterness together as we mock and scorn our mutual outsider. Of course we know better. We know what happens to spiteful people – thanks to Disney movies and The Avengers – spiteful people are shortsighted and end up destroying themselves. And yet, we keep fueling our friendships with this bond of, well, hatred.
It reminds me of the crowd that gathered around the adulterous woman in the book of John, in the Bible. She got caught in the act, and the community leaders dragged her to the temple, to ask Jesus if they should stone her, according to the law.
There she was, exposed.
Surrounded, yet quite alone.
And there they were – that group of friends – hurt, angry together.
(Sometimes I wonder if this crowd included her crushed husband? I wonder if it included his friends and family who came to his defense? I wonder if it included her own family?)
They belonged together.
They were right and they had every right.
They wanted to kill that woman together.
And they would’ve.
But God intervened.
Early in the morning, Jesus was teaching in the temple. When the community leaders presented their case to Him, He paused and drew in the sand.
He looked at that group of angry friends and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
He didn’t say don’t.
He didn’t even say, “Love your enemies”.
So who would throw it?
Who would hurl that stone through the air and smash that woman in the head?
Who would knock her feet out from under her to make her an easy target for everyone else?
Who was the ring-leader? Who was the angriest?
Miraculously, no one did.
No one threw the first stone.
Instead, one person heard and wondered, “Who am I to accuse this woman – I – who, even as the sun rose this morning, have received mercy?”
Instead of throwing the first stone, he was the first to walk away.
One brave, honest person – the older, most respected man, in fact – walked away, giving courage to another man who walked away.
Then another, and another, and another person walked away. Each one who had gathered thick around hatred, followed one another toward forgiveness and mercy.
They had to receive forgiveness themselves. They had to trust Jesus with their desire for vengeance and trust Him to deal wisely with this woman. They had to trust Him to be both just and loving.
Consider the significant influence of that one person: the one who walked away first.
Could it be me?
“…when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22