Here’s to you Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know.

14/01/10 | Posted by MattPage

The gospels only tell us of one occasion when Jesus encountered a woman caught in adultery (John 8). She is dragged before him in front of an unforgiving crowd, baying for blood. They all know the law: she should be stoned to death.

image
 A scene depicting John 8 from The Passion of the Christ

It’s a passage that came to mind this week when I was reading about the scandal surrounding the wife of Northern Ireland’s first minister, Iris Robinson. She had allegedly had an affair with a 19 year-old, and arranged £50,000 worth of loans to help him set up a restaurant. Failure to declare such loans breaks expenses rules.

The media has had a field day going over the details. Not only is this a sex scandal, it’s an expenses scandal to boot. Not only is she a powerful figure in Northern Irish politics, but she’s also caused offence with her comments on homosexuality. There’s been fleeting sympathy over her depression and the resulting suicide attempt, but all in all the relish with which she has been torn down certainly bears some resemblance to the mob that came before Jesus.

In contrast to the media, the Bible is scant on the details of its story. We don’t know whether the woman in question was young or old, rich or poor, influential or powerless. Hollywood has tended to portray her as young and sexy, but actually we’re told precious little. It’s unlikely her moral failings would have destabilised the region, but she may have been rich. And she may have been old - older even. She may even have been powerful, although only powerful enough to attract enemies, not powerful enough to keep them at bay.

John’s lack of detail is not so much so that we can fill them in for ourselves, but to highlight the facts in the story that really count. It matters not about the woman’s background, what Jesus wrote in the ground, or even the absence of the man she was committing adultery with. We’re not even told whether she does, in the end, “go and sin no more” or not.

I like to think that this is because, in the end, what really matters in this story is Jesus’ compassion. When he looked he didn’t see the woman’s moral failings, her mistakes, her hypocrisy. He just saw her as a person. Given the extremes of this case, it’s certainly an uncomfortable comparison. Yet whilst few will be calling for Iris Robinson to be allowed to carry on as normal, it’s difficult to see a single reason why Jesus would have treated her any differently than that unnamed woman almost two thousand years ago.

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What really matters is what John wrote: the sinner was dragged before the sinless one, by other sinners who thought they weren’t. Jesus didn’t condemn her because he didn’t need to. But in Christ, whoever we are and whatever we have done, we have forgiveness. Sin is real and terrible, but none of us dare condemn another for his or her sin, for we all alike stand under condemnation, without exception. Jesus’ compassion was to recognise this and not condemn the woman any more than the hypocrites who brought her there. The troubling thing about the Iris Robinson story is the glee with which she has been dragged into public view for daring to be a Christian and failing to live up to some image of Christian perfection that the media have. Let those without sin cast the first stone ...

#1. By Jeremiah on January 26, 2010

Thank you Matt for this thought-provoking article.  If we all got off our high horses and took seriously Jesus’s challenge that only people who are sinless should throw stones of judgement, then the world would be a much happier place.

#2. By James on March 02, 2010

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