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Accepting Unacceptable People

John 8:1-12
10th April 2005

How accepting are Australians of people whose behaviour does not fit society’s norm’s? For example, on this Mother’s Day, does society approve of single women living in a lesbian relationship having a baby by IVF INSEMINATION? We may guess society’s reaction, but this week The University of NSW released the results of a survey of 3000 people taken late last year. The survey asked questions about the promiscuous young woman, the homosexual man, the doctor who performs abortions, and married people having an affair. If you thought less of any these people for their behaviour, you are being quite reasonable, according to the survey.

Project director Roy Baker said on the list of social sins, adultery was regarded as the worst, with 89 per cent saying that philanderers deserve any bad press that comes their way. If a troubled person feels a counsellor will reject him he will say nothing. But let the troubled person feel that the counsellor will accept him while not accepting his troubles, then the counsellor will be trusted. We call it non-judgmental counselling: the ability to judge the wrong without rejecting the person. Christians must learn to accept people without accepting their behaviour. Jesus is the outstanding example of such an approach. Jesus never claimed sexual immorality was acceptable to God as some Church leaders teach. Immorality was, and remains sinful. Some people do not like to call sin , “sin” They cannot understand that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. I remember Mike Carlton writing in a Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald revealing little knowledge and less research.

He supported a leader of the Uniting Church in Australia who confessed to an adulterous immoral relationship but who was making a determined effort to remain in position as a national Church leader. This was unacceptable to Christians as some of us pointed out. But Mike Carlton supported the person concerned by quoting words of Jesus that the offender refused to obey, and which rules the person out of leadership office while living unrepentantly in a relationship clearly prohibited in the Bible. He wrote, after attacking statements from the late Sir Alan Walker, myself and Rev Fred Nile. “I studied what was called “divinity” at school and a few bits of it have stuck. One naturally hesitates to quote the gospels to a trinity of such eminent divines as the Reverends Walker, Moyes and Nile, but they might like to check out: John 8:7 “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” I am all in favour of checking out this word of Jesus.

It starts, John 8:1:”Then everyone went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” This section of John’s Gospel is in small print because this section is not found in the most ancient manuscripts. Scholars tell us that the account is authentic but the Gospel writers found the passage a hot potato, too hot to handle! St Augustine said it was omitted because it could be taken that Jesus was soft on sexual immorality, for He refused to condemn an adulterous woman. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives for one simple reason: the others all went to their homes, but Jesus “had no place to lie down and sleep.” Matt. 8:20 He spent the night in the “Starlight Hotel”. A few of us here understand that.

After church most of us go home to bed, except for a few who head for Central Station, or Hyde Park, or a lane, or the doorways of Sydney, because like Jesus you have nowhere to lay your head. He identifies with Sydney’s homeless. “Early the next morning He went back to the Temple. All the people gathered around Him and He sat down and began to teach them.”

He was sitting down to teach, as the custom was — the custom that gives rise to our expression “the Professor’s Chair” at the university, or “the Chair of Medicine”; or in the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church known as “ex cathedra” from the Chair of the Pope, or the church which is the home of the Bishop being a “Cathedral” where the chair “cathedra” where the bishop sits to teach. So Jesus sat down to teach with authority when, “the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all.” They came to him dragging a woman, who was certainly protesting loudly about the men who were roughly handling her. They stood her among the people immediately before Him. “Teacher”, they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.” Now there is something fishy here. They caught the woman in the very act of adultery. But where is the man involved? It takes two to tango! The Law actually said: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of a fellow Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death.” Leviticus 20:10 It was extraordinary difficult to catch people “in the very act of committing adultery” in that very strict society where the death penalty kept people apart as it still operates under Muslim Law.

The law stated the couple should be put to death and no man is found here! Why? Because this woman was part of a frame up. They needed her caught “in the very act” and they organized a man to set her up, and because he was part of the frame-up, he made good his escape. And the one who was to be framed was not the woman but Jesus!

She was the bait for a bigger catch! Jesus was the One they were after. This event took place in the last week of His life while in the Temple. They quoted Moses “In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death.” and contrasted it with the question: “Now, what do you say?” The Gospel writer is perfectly correct to indicate “they said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse Him.” They had Jesus set up before a crowd of witnesses and they had quoted the Law at Him. They wanted His word: if He agreed with what the Jewish Law said they would carry out the stoning, kill the woman, and Jesus would be responsible for her death and under the Roman Law that was a capital offence and Jesus Himself would be guilty of her murder. But if He refused to agree with the Jewish Law, then He would be guilty of rejecting the sacred Law of Moses in the very Temple of God, and they would have legal grounds allowed by the Romans to stone Him! If He said “Yes” He was damned. If he said “No” He was damned. They had Him exactly pinned where they wanted Him! He was trapped by His own word! “But Jesus bent over and wrote on the ground with His finger.” He refused to speak. That infuriated them. He outsmarted them.

What did He write in the dust of the Temple? The names of people He knew had committed adultery from among them? The Ten Commandments? The law of compassion? We do not know but it infuriated them. “As they stood there asking Him questions, He straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” His reply hit them like a laser. The piecing light of his gaze burned into their conscience and they realised that in His sight all of their past was laid bare. They fell back. “Then He bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left one by one, the older ones first.”

Why the eldest first? Because those who were older are more conscious of their sin? Or because they have the wisdom of the years which softened the hardness of their hearts? Perhaps their reasons were as mixed as our guesses. They just left quietly. “Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?” His look was of understanding and His words were of kindness. He had accepted her as a person in spite of her sinfulness. “No one sir” she answered. “Well then, I do not condemn you either. Go but do not sin again.” His reply was perfect. He refused to join in the public condemnation of a private sin. He refused to be part of a lynch mob that would have acted unjustly on only one party to the immorality. He refused both to condemn her action and to condone her sin. Instead, He sent her away with the instruction to sin no more. He did not forgive her because she did not repent of her sin. Neither did He pronounce her innocent for she was still guilty.

But He accepted her as a person while not accepting behaviour. Many of us must learn to accept the person while rejecting their behaviour. How can we learn to accept the person but not their behaviour? By learning from the teaching and example of Jesus. There is no more gracious example of open acceptance of people regardless of their actions, than that of Jesus. Of all great people, He is the One who has most to teach us about accepting people but not their behaviour. With Him sex sins were not the worst. He refused to condemn this woman caught in the very act of adultery. He spoke to the prostitute of Sychar the words of grace that eventually redeemed her. He accepted the kisses on his feet of a grateful harlot. He accepted the gifts of Mary Magdalene while rejecting the snobbery of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus accepted the person while rejecting their behaviour. To be like Jesus, we must:


All of us sin in God’s sight. Our sins may be may be the sins of thought, attitude or prejudice. But contrary to our beliefs God does not grade sins into little and big, black and white, acceptable and non-acceptable. Sin is sin and all sin leads to death. And all of us are sinners. We must confess our sin. As John Bradford said of a man about to be hanged: “ There, but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” We all have sinned.


Jesus sees not the problems in a person but the possibilities. He believed that people can be redeemed. We must hold open for others the possibility of new life in Christ.


We see the sin, but Jesus sees the sinner. That is why He sees in us not our failures but our possibilities. We oppose wrong behaviour. But we see behind the behaviour, ordinary people manipulated by subconscious desires, ingrained prejudices, bitter experiences, the intangible influences of hereditary and the invisible influences of our environment.


This world needs more people who live like Jesus. That may be painful, for society crucifies those who live like Jesus and shoot those who bring messages that require them to change. But more like Jesus means less prejudice, more acceptance; less hatred, more love; less condemnation, more understanding. We may not throw stones at others. Jesus came to redeem us all from sin. If we seek Him in repentance, He forgives us in love. Seek Him now so you may hear His words: “Is there no one left to condemn you? Well, then, I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”

We must refuse both to condemn the person and to condone the sin. Instead we condemn the sin, but encourage the sinner to sin no more. We stress that forgiveness can be had if the sinner repents of the sin. We do not proclaim anyone innocent when they are guilty. That is God’s privilege. But we can accept the person while we reject the behaviour. We can reject the sinful and wrong behaviour, but we can also accept the person for their possible redemption. That is what Jesus does, and we should seek to be more like Him.


Gordon Moyes

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