“By His Wounds We Are Healed: The Wounds of Adultery”
Lenten Service – March 25, 2020
Who would have thought that the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading that would jump out at
us tonight would be these: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” But those are
the words and thoughts that have been on our minds for weeks now. If you are healthy, if you
don’t need a doctor, you can give thanks to God for that. If you know of someone who is sick or
hospitalized, you can give thanks to God for doctors and nurses – for their expertise based on
years of study, for their experience, for their commitment to health and for their front-line
serving of others. No one is going to argue with Jesus’ medical logic these days. If it wasn’t for
the medical profession, there would be a lot more panic than there currently is.
But those words of Jesus – like a parable – also have a deeper, spiritual meaning. Jesus explained
that… Like the physically sick need a medical doctor for the healing of their bodies, so the
spiritually sick need the Great Physician for the healing of their souls. That’s why Jesus added:
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Let’s dive in…
The story of Jesus dining at table that day with tax collectors and sinners is shared in all of the
first three gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They have some variations – and the variations
are important for the message of each gospel writer – but the point and the context is the same:
Jesus sits at table with sinners and outcasts and is unashamed. “Sinners” was a general term that
was commonly used to refer to tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, robbers and the like. It
lumps these people into a category of people who were despised by the common folk, people
who either refused or lacked the time to follow the laws of Moses. So, this calling of Matthew –
himself a tax-collector – to discipleship is a powerful story at the very heart of the gospel about
how we are all welcomed and embraced in spite of the truth of our sins.
During our Lenten Wednesdays, we have been considering how Jesus was accused of breaking
the Commandments. Tonight, we are up to the 6 th Commandment – “You shall not commit
adultery.” In the Gospels, Jesus was never, Himself, accused of breaking that Commandment by
having sexual relations with a woman. However, you may remember hearing this a number of
years ago – there was apparently an ancient manuscript found and dated to the 6 th century A.D.
that claimed that Jesus was married to and had children with Mary Magdalene, the former
demon-possessed prostitute. Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, made the same
claim. If they were based on fact, then there may be truth behind a claim of Jesus’ breaking the
6 th Commandment – at least from the perspective of Him marrying a prostitute.
But as we have heard with other commandments, there is sometimes a breaking of the commands
that goes deeper than the letter of the law… breaking the intent or spirit of the law. Later in the
Gospel of Matthew, Jesus will speak about how “tax collectors and prostitutes,” because of their
faith in him, will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of others who are self-righteous. In Luke’s
Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ intimate encounter with a “sinful woman” – that is, a prostitute – at the
home of a Pharisee. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. Needless
to say, eyebrows are raised and criticisms abound for those present suspect that Jesus must know
what kind of a woman she is, and yet He doesn’t back away from her approach and her actions.
They see His acceptance of her actions as condoning her lifestyle. Jesus sees her washing of His
feet as an act of love and He speaks words of endearing forgiveness to her. And in John’s
Gospel, we hear the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus defended her over all
her critics: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” All of
them left, and the woman was alone with Jesus. Jesus then said to her, “‘Woman, where are
they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I
condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’” And we can’t forget Jesus’
conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well – the one who had had five husbands and
who wasn’t married to man number 6. Even if Jesus didn’t commit adultery, He sure rubbed
shoulders with His fair share of people who did. So we see that Jesus seems to interact with and
welcome adulterers when the Sixth Commandment expressly forbids adultery.
Tax collectors and sinners and adulterers were despised socially and religiously. In our society,
we, too, have categories of people who are despised and shunned, maybe even people that we
despise, so we can understand that about first century Judaism. The impurity of Jesus’
association with them could not go unnoticed by the religiously upright. But the legalism of
those who criticized such association can still be found not just in society, but even in the Church
today – when the congregation is cold and uninviting to those who do not seem to “fit in.” Such
behavior is counter to the truth of Jesus’ mercy, by which we all have been accepted and loved
by grace even though we do not deserve it.
Jesus didn’t just rub shoulders with the prostitutes and adulterers, He spoke about it. In a
teaching about clean and unclean things, Jesus said that virtually all sins – and He specifically
included adultery – originate in a person’s heart. When Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and
the tax collector who went to the temple to pray, Jesus crafted the Pharisee’s prayer to include
thankfulness that he was not like adulterers. And in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus is
explaining God’s true intention for some of the Commandments, He broadens this 6 th
Commandment to refer not just to the act of adultery, but to even include the lust in our hearts.
That means that even the religiously faithful, who shun and despise the sin of adultery in others,
will need to look into their own hearts to see if they have actually broken the Commandment. It
is such lust, such covetousness for the spouse of another that leads us away from the kingdom of
heaven and down a path of being swamped in misguided attractions and sexual acts or fantasies.
Consider David and Bathsheba as an illustration. The first sin of David was his covetous desire
for Bathsheba, who, from the roof of his palace, he saw bathing at a nearby house. Everything
else that followed – the actually adultery, Bathsheba’s pregnancy, attempts to conceal what he
had done, seeing to the death of her husband Uriah, and then taking her in as his own wife – all
that was rooted from the time he first spotted her bathing.
David would be confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan. And David would repent deeply
for his wrong; though sadly and tragically, the child that Bathsheba had conceived died. Later
she would conceive and give birth to Solomon, the son who would succeed David as King of
Israel. The opening of the Gospel of Matthew also notes this in Jesus’ genealogy, but does not
leave out the scandal of David’s adultery: “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of
Lest we think we are still off the hook even after consideration of these sexual sins, there are
other meanings of adultery in Scriptures that hold the people of God accountable. Hosea the
prophet was instructed to marry a prostitute and woman of adultery in order to symbolize the
depth of Israel’s own idolatry… the chasing after other gods, other spiritual bridegrooms. How
much we all have missed the mark when we have pursued other gods in our lives in both word
and deed and have left the kingdom of heaven peripheral to our being. We cannot justify
ourselves. Luther’s last words, “We are all beggars” may just as well have been, “We are all
Still it is not our own acts of repentance for our adulteries or idolatries that finally overcomes the
evil and scandal. Such repentance is but the fruit of the incredible grace of Christ who takes the
sin of our offenses into himself. Luther noted this in one of his most profound expositions of the
gospel. Paul writes in Galatians 3:13 that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us.” When he lectured on that passage, Luther wrote: “This is the most
joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the
indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we
were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could
not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all
men upon Him, and said to Him: ‘Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and
assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In
short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that
You pay and make satisfaction for them.’ Now the Law comes and says: ‘I find Him a sinner,
who takes upon Himself the sins of all men. I do not see any other sins than those in Him.
Therefore let Him die on the cross!’ And so it attacks Him and kills Him. By this deed the whole
world is purged and expiated from all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil.
But when sin and death have been abolished by this one man, God does not want to see anything
else in the whole world, especially if it were to believe, except sheer cleansing and righteousness.
And if any remnants of sin were to remain, still for the sake of Christ, the shining Sun, God
would not notice them.”
What we get to celebrate is that Jesus’ association with the lowliest of outcasts means for us and
for all people that there are no bounds to His grace. By His wounds on the cross there is the
wholeness of healing that no one gets left out from the mercy of God; and no one is an outcast
from God’s love. Whatever you have done, WHATEVER you have done, whatever you have
done IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE… by Jesus’ wounds, you are healed, you are whole, you are
forgiven! For Jesus came to call, and to redeem, and to save… the sinners. Thanks be to God.