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First Stones

First Stones

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 — Week of 2 Advent, Year 1

John Horden, Bishop and Missionary in Canada, 1893

Robert McDonald, Priest, 1913

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Isaiah 6:1-13

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

John 7:53 – 8:11

We dive into John’s gospel for a moment today to read the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. This fragment is from an unknown source — it is not original to John — and some ancient texts have it in Luke’s gospel after 21:25 or 21:38. Regardless of its origins, it is a compelling story.

Jesus halts the punishing sin-patrol with the stunning words, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”

What if no one ever threw the first stone? There would be no capital punishment. Punitive measures toward gay people would disappear. People would quit threatening others with hell. What else?


Scholars debate over whether or not 2 Thessalonians is written by Paul or is a later composition written in his style and name. In this opening section, we hear the author claiming that suffering is a sign of being chosen by God. He expects that such suffering will be vindicated at the last judgment. At that time God will right all wrongs and inflict “blazing fire to those who don’t recognize God and don’t obey the good news of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the Lord’s presence and away from his mighty glory.” (1:8-9, CEB)

The good news about passages such as these is that they leave vengeance in God’s hands. There is a strong Biblical tradition that says that revenge and vengeance is not a human prerogative. Who is wise and pure enough to cast first stones of revenge?

The bad news about passages such as these is that they project our vengeful desires upon God. I wonder, do we do God justice when we assume God will fulfill our darkest violent desires? In the God that Jesus points us toward we do not see a God of vengeance. The God of Jesus soaks up violence and injustice through his innocent suffering on the cross and returns only love, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” God’s answer to cruelty and violence is not revenge, but resurrection.

In the anti-Islamic fervor that swelled in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a local pastor made sweeping condemnations of Muslims and the entire Islamic faith by pulling from the Koran some ugly verses directing judgment and vengeance upon non-Muslims. “See,” he said to me, “they want to destroy us!”

But we’ve got the same kind of ugly thoughts in our scriptures too. This passage in 2 Thessalonians expects vengeance and “the penalty of eternal destruction” upon anyone who doesn’t “obey the good news of our Lord Jesus.” There are Christians who are comfortable with a God who would wreak vengeance and eternal damnation upon Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. But that doesn’t sound like the God of Jesus Christ to me, nor does it sound like a god who is worthy of our worship. That sounds like a tribal god, and history has had enough blood and condemnation spread in the name of its tribal deities. In Jesus, the Holy God chooses not to throw the first stone.


What a morning. I haven’t commented on the incredible call of Isaiah. Such a great passage. We can feel the pathos of Isaiah’s frustration that his message will not be heard and his warnings will not be heeded, that his nation will blindly pursue a path that will destroy all but a holy stump of their civilization.

What are the prophets telling us today, and how are we closing our ears?

By Lowell Grisham


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