Remember the oft repeated children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Whether hurtful words are said to adults or to children, they cause harm do they not?
Abraham Lincoln had this to say: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” We adults know what this means. How often are we guilty? Is it possible to cast a stone with words? With facial expressions? How about attitudes?
Ever met people who seem to lack a brain filter? A river of opinions may flow unchecked from their mouths, making what President Lincoln said a truth. If I were to ask you the number of times someone has said something hurtful to you in the past year, would you require another hand or two to add them up? Likely, you remember. It is easy to remember the hurtful words. It’s sad, heartless, and often downright cruel the things people say, particularly to those who are suffering deeply. Rather than speak words of compassion, they wax long in their limited understanding of the burdens you carry. They have zero experience but an abundance of “knowledge” picked up from here and there ~ and sad to say, they are often members of our inner circle. If you have first hand experience, I am sorry for your pain.
Words, like throwing stones to drive home a point, leave bruises that last a lifetime. It reminds me of a Bible story that you may recall. Perhaps there are similarities between stones thrown then and words of stone “thrown” now?
This story is about a single woman named Mary. Pardon my loose translation of the Bible story which in the telling goes something like this. Mary worked the late shift in the city. She walked the lonely streets at night looking for opportunities to sell her body to make a living. Men liked her good looks, but secretly despised her and treated her accordingly. She preferred the wealthier men because they paid her promptly. She performed their preferences and was rewarded for it, but the job had lost its luster. No doubt she was still a beauty in spite of the rough treatment she had to endure in her line of work. But she was tired of the harsh treatment . . . and the shame. Many a time she was kicked out on the street to spend the rest of the night curled up in a dark alley until the first rays of dawn erased the dark shadows, attempting to erase the ugly memories as well.
Mary grew up in the village of Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Often while leaning against the lamppost or curled up in an alley, memories of home flooded her mind. There were always hot meals and a warm bed. She knew her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus would take her back ~ her room was kept just as she had left it ~ but they would expect her to give up her lucrative job on the streets in order to live with them. But who would hire her with her reputation? She had no acceptable work history to write on her resume. A prospective boss’s scoffing would only deepen her shame. As bad as her profession was she was not ready to call it quits. Not yet.
Then Jesus came to town. He had no home of his own and often stayed with Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. They quickly bonded into a beautiful friendship and he was always welcome. Jesus would get road-weary and Martha always had warm bread in the oven and hot soup simmering in the kettle when she heard he was on his way. They had good talks too. Lazarus and Martha were eager to learn about God, believing Jesus was God’s Son. They poured out their pain about Mary, how they worried about her safety and the gossip from the neighborhood. It followed them wherever they went, but they loved their sister and wanted a better life for her.
Back in the city, Mary had a bad night. The trick turned ugly. The man had beaten her after having his way with her. As much as she didn’t want to drag her family into her world, she needed them now more than ever so pulling her veil over her face to hide the bruises, she caught a ride with a passing stranger to Bethany. Martha washed off the dried blood and applied ointment and bandages. Lazarus fretted over her employment while she filled her tummy with the best meal she had eaten in a while and Jesus just listened.
When she felt safe enough to let her guard down, daring to trust this kind stranger, Jesus began to share with her the love he brought with him from heaven. He instantly loved Mary as was his nature. His Father loved her too. They talked and talked. Mary felt safe and trusting ~ more than she had felt for any man other than her brother. The Holy Spirit was working on her heart, drawing her and she found her soul satisfied with Jesus’ words of hope and healing. Her heart was touched. She had never felt more sinful than she felt at the feet of Jesus and yet she knew he loved her inside out. She felt no shame in the presence of Jesus, who knew no sin. But he did not condemn her. Instead, he cast out the demons that haunted her very existence. Her sin gone!
Mary had found a new love. But after a time, the lure of the city streets pulled at her again. The money was good and she needed to support herself and think of her future, so she returned to the night life in the big city with deep pockets. It was during one of Mary’s business transactions that she was caught in the very act of adultery. Suddenly she was surrounded by men in colorful robes with matching turbans who swiftly drug her half-naked body out into the street. The bright morning sun temporarily blinded her. Try as she might, she had little clothing with which to cover her shame. These haughty businessmen in their freshly pressed attire ~ some she recognized from previous engagements ~ were hell-bent on making an example of her.
Shielding her eyes against the morning rays, she felt a Presence. Sandaled feet joined her in the circle formed by these blood-thirsty men intent on making a spectacle of her. She knew the law. They intended to spill her blood today. But they wanted to “kill two birds with one stone”. Truth be told, they weren’t really after her, but after Jesus. She was the pawn. He was the target. A trap had been set and they were prepared. Each Pharisee tensely fingered the rough stone they held, hidden in the folds of their robes. Each stone would inflict serious damage when heaved at the trembling form. A few blows would forever silence the woman huddled before them, but they craved silencing the Man in the middle, more. Much more.
These pious church leaders were hoping to trick Jesus. They hated him and his following. He made their blood boil when he preached loving messages of freedom to the people. They wanted control over everyone and this woman at their feet was to be made an example. There would be one less prostitute when they got through with her. Never mind they had used her. There would be others they’d willingly pay for favors in the dead of night, but today, catching Jesus in his own words, would be worth it.
“Hey, Teacher,” they yelled. “We caught this woman turning tricks, caught her in the very act. Moses said we are to stone her to death. What do you say?”
The air echoed with their curt words and then silence fell. It got eerily quiet. Was this man, Jesus, going to say nothing? Mary barely lifted her mop of sweaty curls to see the sandal-clad feet in front of her. She wanted to cover her head with her arms as if to shield herself against the stones she expected to be hurled at any moment. Still silence. Daring to peek, Mary noticed something strange going on. Jesus was bent over and writing in the soft dirt.
He stood up and said in a quiet, even tone, “Any of you who has never sinned, go ahead and throw your stones at her.” Then he returned to his writing. One by one, Mary heard thuds and the shuffling of feet as stones hit the ground and the men slunk away. It grew quiet again. Only Jesus remained.
Mary did not know what to think. Not only was she a nearly-naked mess, she had been trembling with the expectation of death. Now all she wanted to do was get to her feet and unabashedly throw her arms around her Benefactor. Jesus reached down and took her hands, pulling her to her feet. All the feelings of guilt and shame vanished in an instant as the Savior said to her, “Mary, neither do I say you are guilty. Go on your way and do not sin again.” (John 8:11, NLV )
Perhaps you can see the correlation between the stones of this ancient story and the stony behavior of people today? People who liberally condemn the behavior of others with their stony words, piercing the hearts of those who hear them. Self-righteous folks form circles around hurting families. They set ultimatums. They draw a circle in the sand with you and Jesus in the middle. They throw stones. Have their say. They share their personal truth thru stinging words. Now they wait for Jesus to finish you off. After all, if he is who he says he is, God tolerates no sin. Someone has sinned and must be punished. Even though surviving families will bear the crushing pain of loss for the rest of their natural lives, they expect Jesus to not only agree with them, but pronounce final judgment on you or your loved ones right here, right now, just as they have done. They know the law and it has been broken.
But how did Jesus treat Mary? She was set free by the One who would later die for all sins: past, present, and future. He was her Savior and she fell in love with him at that moment. Though the world was harsh and sinful and people made it clear that she was worth nothing, Jesus accepted her as she was, forgave her sins, and set her free. He treats us the same, does he not?
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. John 8:36, NKJV