As a student in Bible college, our pastor often said, “A good apple doesn’t make a bad apple good. It’s always the other way around.” He was talking about the power of influence, particularly when it’s a corrupting influence. In most of our relationships, he was right. Clean doesn’t cleanse the dirty, corruption infects all that it touches.
In Christ, however, we see the reverse. Jesus wasn’t tainted by his association with people who were considered spiritual “bad apples.” On the contrary, his mission was to redeem them by purifying the corruption that characterizes human fallenness.
This, frankly, was something the religious leaders struggled to understand. They worked long and hard to maintain the appearance of personal and ceremonial purity, and a significant part of that effort was in maintaining a healthy distance from any contact with &lquo;sinners.”
Jesus, by contrast, seemed to welcome the opportunity to associate with the “impure” people the religious establishment held at arm’s length. Notice:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (MATTHEW 9:10–11, 13).
To the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, it was unthinkable that a holy God would freely associate with known sinners. Yet, in reality, it was the absolute righteousness of Christ that actually made such associations possible. Because of his innate holiness and purity, Jesus was beyond being tainted by the sinfulness of the people he encountered. Instead, he deliberately and deeply touched their lives by pulling them out of their sinfulness and into commitment to a life dedicated to God.
As a result, Jesus’s interactions with sinful people were characterized by compassion instead of condemnation. He reached out to them instead of retreating from them.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 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 him.
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.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (JOHN 8:2–11).
The religious leaders tried to use this woman to trap Jesus. The woman herself was expendable and unimportant, a tool for a job. They used her to create a dilemma for Jesus. Would he agree with Moses that adulterers deserve death? If so, he would have to allow for a Jewish execution that would defy the laws of Roman occupation. The religious leaders thought that they had Jesus trapped with any answer he gave.
Jesus exposed their hypocrisy without excusing her sin. His compassion did more than rescue her from the stones of the religious crowd. He tenderly urged her to use is lack of condemnation as an opportunity to accept the better ways of the God who loved her.