Got your attention, haven’t I?
You know the story very well. Even people who have not read a scrap of scripture can recite it. The woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses prescribed a prompt death by stoning. The baying crowd had gathered with heavy-duty stones in their arms, but the Pharisees had a plan to sully Jesus’ reputation as a law-abider: What say you Master, they asked, with cunning in their eyes, do we obey the law of Moses or disobey? But Jesus matched wisdom to their cunning. Let him that is without sin, he said, throw the first stone. And they all, starting from the oldest to the youngest, dropped their stones and walked away. When he was alone with the woman on death row he looked up with what was probably faux surprise, Where are they that accuse you? he asked. (If the woman was not ‘born-again’ at that moment, she was certainly living a ‘second life’, thenceforth.) So he sent her away, suggesting that she find another hobby.
Let him that is without sin, throw the first stone.
Often it is not just raw cowardice that keeps us from calling out the most egregiousness offenders in our midst. The owners of those stolen Nissan 4x4s, broader than the breadth of our roads, can deploy their loot in serenity because of the stolen boxes of office pins in our own pockets. He that is without sin… They can deliver bags of currency notes to judges to purchase judgements with impunity because of the crumpled notes that we hand out to checkpoint policemen to overlook our cross-eyed headlamps….let him throw the first stone…
And it is not just religious modesty that cows us, it is also the quasi-feudal deference of subject to chieftain. So our streets are awash with sign boards that thank Governor Kindness Himself or President Prescience Himself for the glorious roads and the splendid paint jobs done with our own money. And when the government donates, say a school bus, the chief servants often have the gall to paint their face on it with the nota bellum ‘donated by governor so and so’ to record their generosity. Yet, this piece is not about the generosity of our public servants, or the insincere felicitations we publish in thousands of newspapers pages (which end as soon as they leave office).
It is about the Spirit of Condemnation that seals the lips that should call out thieves who parade in the togas of chiefs. It is a Spirit of Condemnation that conspires with greed and says: shush… one day you too will graduate from office pins to fleets of Nissans. For, taken in isolation, the moral in the story of the stoning of the prostitute is a ‘lie’. At least as much a lie as that scripture twisted out of context by the Devil in the course of the Wilderness Temptation. Or the many scriptures twisted out of context to make leaders – secular and otherwise – unaccountable to the people they serve. There is yet another scripture that speaks to condemnation in a Roman letter… There is now therefore no condemnation for such as are in Christ…
There is a ‘freedom’ that steels an ordinary man to preach ‘probity’, even though his previous life may be anything but, and even though his future may be as uncertain as any other’s.
That is a freedom we need in our streets, in our offices, in our living rooms, whatever our religious persuasions.
Hypocrisy calls out a Nissan thief with stolen packs of pins in his pocket.
Humility says: we’ve messed up big time, now let’s now pull ourselves together.
Takes some guts, of course, to endanger the future illicit Nissans that may be the payoff for our silence today, but no one ever said it comes easy, national transformation.