The woman knew her life was about to end. Surrounded by a huge crowd, her condemners all held stones. This would be her legacy, marked forever as a woman of adultery. Filled with shame and a sense of helplessness, all she could do was stare at the dust surrounding her feet.
But she wasn’t alone. There was a man next to her, a man different from any man she had ever known. Her accusers questioned him about her punishment. Expecting him to agree and cast the first stone, she cowered. Instead, he remained silent and wrote something in the dust that has remained a mystery to this day. Finally, Jesus stood and spoke: “Let the one who has never sinned, cast the first stone” (John 8:7b).
When Jesus stood before the woman’s accusers, he stood as a light of hope for those deemed unworthy. On that particular day, he changed the rules. Not even a single stone was thrown, for they knew they had all sinned in one way or another.
Jesus hung out with outcasts because he was creating a model of how to build his Church, one lost sheep at a time. Jesus did not operate within the parameters dictated by his culture. He sought the crippled and disease-ridden, and any whom society had deemed unworthy, disreputable, and morally wrong in their lifestyle choices. They were the ones who were lost, lonely, and in pain, and willing to admit it. He even surrounded himself with a ragtag group of sinners to be in his inner circle.
By reaching out to those considered beyond reach, he taught and led as a living example of the “will of God.” Society sees people according to stereotypes. Jesus, however, saw each individual’s needs instead of the labels society slapped upon them. Even when Jesus taught to the masses, he always made time to reach out to the individual outcast. He was moved to extend mercy and compassion towards “sinners” because he knew they needed a Savior.
The account of the “woman at the well” details that need for a Savior. The woman was a Samaritan, hated and rejected as an outcast of the worst type, especially by the Jews. Yet Jesus and his followers — all of whom were Jewish — made a point to walk through Samaria. Following the will of God, Jesus decided to stop and rest at one of the Samaritan wells. He struck up a conversation with a woman — a sinner and an outcast. They had a lengthy conversation, which included acknowledging her adulterous life. By the end of their talk, Jesus declared Himself the Messiah and she gratefully accepted that revelation. Not finished with his work, he headed into town with the woman and hung out with the villagers for two additional days (John 41:1-42).
Jesus modelled the same redemptive vision when he met Matthew, a tax collector (Matthew 9:9-10). Tax collectors during that time were notorious thieves and swindlers. However, this generalization didn’t stop Jesus from reaching out to Matthew, or from eating dinner with him and other disreputable individuals of society. The same scenario repeated itself in another town, with a different tax collector named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).
His choice of company upset many of the religious leaders of the time and they taunted Jesus for His actions. In response, Jesus gave one of his more notable teachings:
“Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13, NLT).
All throughout recorded history humans have feared groups of people that are different. I believe this is why Jesus went to such lengths to correct this faulty line of thinking. He accomplished this through his example and by highlighting the most important commandment in Scripture:
“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).
Most of the religious leaders agreed this was the greatest of all the commandments. Yet, how to live by that commandment was something they only understood in partiality. One religious leader, wanting Jesus to justify his actions, asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Known for telling a story to drive a point home, Jesus told the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). A man was beaten and robbed. Two men, a priest and a temple assistant, walked past the man. They even crossed to the other side of the street out of fear. A third man, a Samaritan, also an outcast as we have seen above, came upon the beaten man and immediately offered assistance by caring for his wounds and paying for him to stay in an inn to have time to heal.
The fear that led the priest and temple assistant to ignore the beaten man is still prevalent today. It is our nature to avoid situations and people that make us uncomfortable. But the story shows us that our neighbor is anyone — even someone with different religious and moral beliefs, an outcast, a rebel, or even our enemy. Jesus demonstrates how we should always show compassion and mercy towards others.
He left us with one more crucial commandment: to go into all nations to teach and baptize people (Matthew 28:19-20). Not just those who think, dress, and act like us. All people, of all nations.
Which leaves us with a question: are we following Jesus according to the example he set and the words he taught? Following Jesus isn’t easy. It wasn’t either when he walked the earth. To live as Jesus did will potentially put us, as his followers, into harm’s way. It will require us to trust him no matter what our fears may be.
If we are to be his hands and feet today, perhaps that means going into uncomfortable places and meeting people who are very different from us. Just remember, you don’t go alone. God is with you, no matter the response. You will be living out God’s will by stepping out in faith, just as Jesus did.
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