By Sherye S. Green
A Stone’s Throw from Grace
Idioms of speech form an interesting category within the English language. Derived from the Greek term idios meaning “personal,” idioms are unique expressions of speech used to convey a particular meaning. Phrases, like a perfect storm or Elvis has left the building, have no sensible connection to the words actually used.
One such idiom is that of throwing stones. God’s recently made me aware that I’ve developed this bad habit of inwardly criticizing others. It’s easy, especially within this middle age of life, to feel justified in this practice. It matters not that God Himself is the only one who often reads these hurtful words printed across the pages of my heart. They are ungodly, just the same.
The Bible describes different uses for stone. The two stone tablets upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments. Five smooth stones that David used to kill Goliath. A heart of stone that God is able to excise from within each of us. An Ebenezer stone to remind oneself of God’s faithfulness. A unit of measurement. A means of capital punishment.
One of my favorite Gospel stories is Jesus’ encounter with a woman who has been caught “in the very act” of adultery (Matthew 1:4, NASB). Her accusers haul the woman into the temple, her ignominy clinging to her like a crimson robe. Knowing full well that death by stoning was the very public legal consequence prescribed for such offenses, scribes and Pharisees demand Jesus concur with them, hoping all the while that His words will trip Him up.
Instead of answering the self-righteous group, Jesus stoops down and begins to write in the dirt. His only verbal response was to say, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her” (John 8:7, PHILLIPS). After delivering His challenge, Jesus returns to His literary exercise in the dust.
I’ve often wondered what Jesus was writing. The full names of each man in the group who had hauled this first-century Hester Prynne into this most inglorious spotlight? The specific sins committed by each man? The number of times those same sins were committed? Jesus may have even drawn a line through the description of each offense, canceling the debt like some heavenly accountant.
Jesus has been convicting me of carrying little stones in the pockets of my spirit. I often fail to see these as the heat-seeking missiles they are, as they are often carefully wrapped within the soft cloth of remembrance. He hurt me all those years ago. She failed to live up to my expectations. They were rude to me. That group made me feel small and insignificant.
Most of these words, though never heard by another, still echo in my heart and within my head, threatening to undermine the woman God intends for me to be. Inward thought determines the direction of the heart and the actions of a life. But what if I speak these words aloud to another, not simply throw these small stones within the safe yard of my mind? Now those same stones become a sort of gravel upon which the reputation of another begins to slide, especially when thrown in great quantity.
How like my Jesus to couch His rebuke to me in gentle, yet pointed words, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own” (Matthew 7:3, The Message). He implores me with eyes of love rather than with the harsh tone of criticism I myself too often employ. My Lord tenderly turns my face toward the mirror of His Word.
The most famous stone in all of history is not the Hope Diamond or the stone from which the mythical Arthur drew forth his sword, but the stone rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. The first Joseph welcomed Jesus into this world. Another Joseph, this one from Arimathea, will himself roll into place the stone he believes will seal the tomb of the dearly departed Jesus. Little did either of them know what would happen a mere three days later.
God Himself kicks away the stone to Jesus’ tomb, like it’s a minuscule pebble punted down the road by the toe of His shoe. Easter reminds us of Jesus’ life-giving power to make all things new. Jesus redeems our very souls, but He can certainly also revolutionize our thoughts, words, and actions. How I pray He will transform this stone-throwing habit of mine into one of skipping rocks across the pond of His forgiveness.
If you struggle with critical words and thoughts, let them go. Drop them outside the Easter tomb and see them roll down the hill amidst a million other little rocks that here before had threatened to bruise or cause injury.
See, just within the empty tomb, are small, white, smooth stones. Love. Forgiveness. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Pick up a few and tuck them away in the pockets of your spirit. Let them remind you of God’s transformational power the next time you reach in to throw a stone at another.
May we never fail to give to others what we want most for ourselves: the benefit of the doubt. May we never forget the priceless gifts we always receive from Jesus: His unconditional love and His unmerited favor. We’re all just a stone’s throw away from grace.
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian, a teacher at Madison-Ridgeland Academy, and a wife, mother, and grandmother. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Church Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul.