There is a well-known and fascinating incident in the life of Jesus found in John’s gospel. It occurs at the end of his ministry when his popularity is at its height. Crowds surround him, hanging on every word he says. The leaders of the day bring a woman caught in adultery to him, they shame her in front of the whole crowd and challenge and test Jesus about what she be done to her. The law and popular opinion says she should be stoned.
Jesus tries to ignore them, writing on the ground with a stick, but they are insistent. He stands up and challenges them, if any of you are without sin, let him be the first one to through a stone at her. He then bends down and starts writing again.
One by one the crowd, including the leaders leave. Only the woman is left. Lovingly he tells her that he doesn’t condemn her but exhorts her to leave her life of sin.
A powerful story with much to stir us. The inconsistent way women can be treated, they are guilty of adultery rather than the man. The hypocrisy of people, condemning everyone else but themselves.
However, the thing that spoke to me when I thought about this recently was how Jesus stood up to public opinion, how he challenged public opinion and won! An important and relevant lesson today where public opinion is king. Politicians have focus groups to find out what public opinion thinks and then seeks to represent it. The assumption is that public opinion must be right. Whether it is about bombing Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack, or about the right of a woman to have an abortion on demand or for people to have the right to euthanasia or for us to leave the European Union.
My point is, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery, it is not public opinion that should determine whether something is right or wrong. Public opinion can be wrong, public opinion can change, be motivated by poor motives, can be hypocritical, inconsistent and prejudiced. At times public opinion needs to be challenged. We need the same wisdom that Jesus had, to know when to challenge public opinion as well as how to challenge it. To know what really is right and true. Fortunately, James tells us that if we lack wisdom we can ask God to give us it.
So, let us not be afraid, as Christians, to challenge public opinion but let us be wise in when and how we do it.
Written by Tony Thompson