“A lot of hanky-panky goes on now in most communities without attracting much attention, but there was a time when this was not true in Woodstock.” So begins another vignette by county historian Fred Painter in the book “Yesterday in Woodstock.”
He goes on to describe two separate incidents of suspected adultery and the actions of some locals who thought it best to intervene. In the first instance, the vigilantes caught a man with another’s wife and tarred and feathered him. After trying to clean up in Pugh’s Run afterward, the targeted man later left town.
The second incident occurred on Main Street when the same group of concerned citizens laid in wait near a home where such behavior had been recently suspected. Painter describes how they hooked up fire hoses to hydrants on Main and Muhlenberg streets and bided their time. Later that night, the man arrived and was welcomed inside by the woman of the house.
The men waited until the lights went off and then opened their hoses, one from the back of the house and the other from the front. Painter says that window panes were shattered and some weatherboarding was also ripped off as the couple ran out “like scared rabbits.” No further information is given, but I assume this either stopped the sinful behavior or forced them to become more secretive with it.
While such anecdotes from around 1900 might bring a smile to our faces today, they vary greatly from the way Jesus handled the same problem nearly two millennia earlier. When the bloodthirsty Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to him in John 8, they were hoping to both stone her and trap him. (I’ve always wondered where the male was, for if she was indeed “caught in the act,” as the Pharisees said, he was as guilty as she.)
Instead of being drawn into their snare, however, Jesus stooped to write in the dust. Commentators have long speculated as to what he wrote there, with possibilities including a list of those Pharisees’ sins to Old Testament verses on grace and mercy. Disappointingly, we won’t know for sure until we see Jesus.
After straightening back up, he looked at them with a fair amount of disgust, I’m sure, and said, “Let he that is without sin throw the first stone.” He then knelt again and continued his earthy composition as the woman’s accusers slunk away one by one.
When they had all disappeared, he rose again and finding none left to accuse her; he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” His incredible mercy and compassion coupled with his direct command for repentance models an amazing balance between grace and truth we should imitate when dealing with open sin today.
Instead of resorting to our basest desires to take justice into our own hands and teach sinners a memorable lesson like those Woodstock vigilantes; we are to extend love and compassion even to the guiltiest. Only Jesus lived a perfect life, and each of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. As such, we are unfit to sit in God’s judgment seat meting out punishment.
On the other end, however, it’s also important not to ignore or condone the sin, but to acknowledge it, address it, and call for changed behavior going forward. Not only did Jesus extend undeserved grace to this nameless woman, but he also commanded her to turn from her sin and live according to God’s Holy will.
In this episode from Jesus’ ministry, we see a tightrope. One end is held securely by grace and compassion while the other is anchored firmly in holiness and truth. It is vitally important to not allow slack to develop in either end, for when we do, we err either on the side of harsh judge-mentalism exhibited by the Pharisees and Woodstock’s vigilantes or on the side of permissiveness unrighteousness so prevalent today. Both are unhealthy and create a loose tightrope upon which no one can walk.
As we muse about past episodes of valley history, let us not only grin and go on but let us learn important truths for dealing with sin in our own lives and in the lives of others. And let’s work to keep both ends of the tightrope tight. Pulling hard, George.
George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 11 books including his latest devotional, “Blessings, Volume II,” which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at email@example.com.