He was being backed into a corner. That kind of situation that had one of two options, and both of them had big cost. The woman was dragged from the bed of a married man and thrown at the teacher’s feet. The crowd watched as those who brought the woman tightened the tension on Jesus to make a decision. The lawyers and religious leaders knew if Jesus simply went along with what was the strict reading of the law, He would be choosing for her to be plummeted by the stones in the accusers’ ready hands. The other option would be to insist they not spill her blood and leave her alone. Uphold the law and condemn this woman to immediate death, or dismiss the law and undermine the foundation of the way of God. It is an extreme “either” “or” standoff. Jesus bends his knees till he can trace his fingers in the loose dust before him. It’s quiet, all eyes are on the teacher, looking for a sign in the sand. He rises amidst the thick tension and fierce determination to bring Jesus down. “Which way will he go”, is echoed in whispers and across the minds of all present. Then he says it, he has chosen, but it is not what any had thought of as an option. In its profound simplicity Jesus showed a Third Way; he speaks and everything changes. “He who has no sin throw the first stone.” In these few words Jesus renders everyone there to their knees in spirit if not in body.
Those seeking to condemn others, to use the law to cause failure and show superiority are brought to the piercing truth that renders them humbled, whether they wanted it or not. Jesus didn’t simply follow the letter of the law, nor did he dismiss its place either. He just called for truth. He went on to be able to give mercy to the woman, sending her on her way with a call to live differently, like the others had been sent off as well. I am moved by the mercy and I am impacted by the way Jesus finds a Third Way when confronted with our limited “either” “or” way of thinking. I learning to take time to pause, and listen for a Third Way in the face of my own challenges, decisions and responses to questions or confrontations. Just when I think I am most certainly right and they are most certainly in the wrong, I am called to my knees to glide through the sand of my moment and listen for another way. It usually begins with compassion for all who are involved and honesty about my own need for mercy more often than I am inclined to give it to others. I usually find that a Third Way upholds truth with love together. It does not dismiss the problem and yet it finds a way to lead myself and others to a greater life giving truth.
A few years ago, a longtime friend and I had fallen out of our way with each other. Betrayal and backstabbing talk to others had taken place on his part. I had work in my life that needed facing and changing as well. The pain and shame of the situation led me to a road of counseling and repenting. An unwillingness on his part to talk it out lasted for a couple of years. He called one day at the death of his mother and asked me meet. I had to bend to the ground and ponder my options. It was tempting to just say no. It was also just as tempting to go and use this moment to challenge him on his past behavior. But as I paused to hear Jesus, he gave a Third Way; “Just listen”. We talked, my friend eventually shared about his Mom and asked me to officiate the funeral. It was a good way. He asked for forgiveness as I did of him. Peace set in and sincere care prevailed. I had not imagined this even possible on my own. The Third Way is the way of slowing to hear from God beyond myself, humbly regarding the need of others for truth and kindness, and simply living closer to the way Jesus lives, that grace may abound.