John 8:3-7 (Today’s New International Version)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Jesus. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It strikes me, every time I read this passage, just how differently it could have gone. All it would have taken was one man to throw a stone. If one person was willing to start the stoning, others would immediately have followed.
In his book Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Neibuhr asserted that people are much more likely to engage in damaging behavior in groups than as individuals. This phenomenon is often called “mob” or “herd mentality.”
Did Jesus look into the souls of those gathered in the crowd, and see that at their core they would be honest about their own sins and failures? Or was Jesus’ calm, peace-filled presence enough to make each person consider how shameful it would be to claim to have lived a sinless existence?
While we may never know the reason, we do know that — one by one — each man dropped his stone he was holding. And walked away.
When in your life have you most needed a second chance?