I wrote this sermon, thanks to St. Augustine, for Saturday. Then I remembered that Saturday is St. Patrick's day and has another set of propers. So here is a sermon that may never be heard by the ear but which some may, nonetheless, find useful.
St. John 8:1-11 (The woman caught in adultery)
St. Augustine, in his tractate on the woman caught in adultery (NPNF1: 7) notes the Messianic character of Psalm 45: 3-4 as it relates to this account:
3. Gird Your sword on Your thigh, O Mighty One, in your splendor and majesty! 4. In Your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let Your right hand teach You awesome deeds! (ESV)
As a Teacher, Jesus brought truth; as a Deliverer, He brought gentlenesss; and, as a Protector, He brought righteousness. His rule was based in these three things and not in the strength of violence. He had girded His sword to His thigh.
His Truth made Him unassailable in argument. His meekness made Him popular with the masses. So His enemies laid a stumbling-block for His righteousness. “Here,” they thought, “is a weakness.”
The law had commanded that adulterers be stoned. Surely the law could not command what was unjust. If any man should naysay the law, he would be detected as unjust, that is, unrighteous. Therefore they laid the trap. They sought to play one gift against another. They said among themselves, “If He approves the stoning of a woman caught in adultery He will appear as though He is not gentle and lose His popularity. If He urges that she be let go, He will act contrary to the Law and be unrighteous. Doubtless, that is what He will do. He will demand she be let go. But then we will accuse Him of being an enemy of the law, against Moses, and being also deserving of death.”
But fallen men who prepare such snares always stick their own necks in first. Behold! The Lord keeps His righteousness, and upholds the Holy Law, without departing from His gentleness. He, for whom the snare was laid, was not taken, but rather they were taken who laid it, because they believed not on Him who could pull them out of the net. Your mother wasn’t far off when she taught you not to point because four fingers always point back at you.”
They made the terrible error because they themselves were enemies of the Law. “You have heard, O Jews! You have heard, O Pharisees! You have heard, O teachers of the law! But you have not understood. Jesus Christ is Himself the Lawgiver and the Law fulfiller.” He writes with His finger on the ground as the Finger of God once wrote the Law in stone. But He is come in mercy. His sword is girded to His thigh. He writes not on barren stone, but in living earth. The Finger of God now replants the garden. He writes not that which condemns but a promise. You have heard, “Let the law be fulfilled. Let the adulterers be stoned.” But is it by punishing sinners that the law is fulfilled? No. That is only consequence, not fulfillment. The execution of adulterers does not recast the marriage bed any more than the execution of murderers might bring back the dead.
The Law is a harsh mistress. She demands perfect obedience and she punishes those who fail. False accusations are as bad as that which is falsely accused, but even righteous accusations are dangerous for those whose lives are not perfect. The Law demands and punishes. She does not fulfill.
Let each then consider himself. How do you stand against the Law? How will you fare when judged according to its just, yet strict, demands? Confess, o man: “I am a sinner. I cannot cast stones. I cannot fulfill the Law’s demands.” If the Lord had said, “Let the adulteress go,” He would be proved Himself unjust. The Law is holy. But if He had said, “Go ahead and stone her,” He would been party to an unjust lynching. For there was no one righteous enough to judge her, save Him.
So He said, “Whosoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” This is the voice of Justice. “Let her, the sinner, be punished, yes, but not by sinners. Let the law be fulfilled, but not by the transgressors of the law.” When they have been driven off by the Law, the Lord exercises His Divine prerogative. Let not your eye be evil because He is good. He can be generous with His goods as He sees fit. He is without sin. He could have cast the stones and fulfilled the Law. But remember, O Christian - remember and never forget - He has gird His sword to His thigh. He comes in meekness and peace. Isn’t that the point of the angels to the Shepherds in their fields? The Lord has come to earth with His sword gird to His thigh. The Lord comes in peace.
There is another way to fulfill the Law, to end the war. He who is without sin can take the stones for her. He can make Himself the Holy Substitute. He – the Lawgiver of Moses – can fulfill the Law in Himself – both by obeying it and also by allowing it to do Him everything it should have done to her and to us. He is pure and He is just and He is a worthy Sacrifice, more than enough to pay for all the sins of the world, more than enough to pay for her sins and for yours, and He is clean, without sin, and therefore pure enough to make the judgment and to bear the consequences.
He had girded His sword to His thigh. What a joyous truth this is. He rode into the death trap, the vineyard where the workers had killed His Father’s servants, into the midst of the angry mob and put the scarlet letter upon Himself: “Here am I, kill Me.” He says, “I am the Sinner for sinners, the Scapegoat, the Substitute, the whole burnt offering, the Ransom and the Mercy Seat.”
He rode with truth, with meekness, and with righteousness. “Neither do I accuse you,” He said. No sweeter words have ever been spoken in all of history. The sword is girded to His thigh.