THEME: Death by stoning is an act of communal condemnation and execution. But there is a better way if the sinner repents.
Deuteronomy 16: 2-7
The death penalty by stoning was to be imposed on any Israelite who became an idol worshipper to serve gods of the nations, to prostrate himself or herself to the sun or the moon or to any host of heaven which God has not commanded and thereby to violate the covenant of our God. There were other causes for stoning as well.
The matter was to be thoroughly investigated and if verified by the mouth of two or three witnesses the idolater was to be separated from among the community and stoned with stones until dead. The witnesses were to be the first to cast a stone, and then “the entire people afterward” so that the evil be destroyed from the midst of the community. From this principle then comes the practice of excommunication: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump…. Therefore, put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Corinthians 5)
What a horrific death stoning is! What a severe penalty excommunication is! Every person in the community was engaged in the judgment. The witnesses led in the execution. The consent to the judgment and the condemnation of the evil was to be thorough-going. The eradication was to be absolute. Thus, the purity of the community was to be secured.
This is why Joseph did not wish to make Mary “a public example.” (Matthew 1:19)
To this Saul of Tarsus (the future apostle Paul) was consenting in the slaying of Stephen. (Acts 7:58)
From this Jesus rescued the woman caught in the act of adultery by saying to the accusing witnesses, “Let him that is without sin among you first cast a stone at her.” Upon hearing this, being convicted in their hearts, they all dropped their rocks and left the woman alone with Jesus. Then he said unto her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Has no man condemned thee?” And she said to him, “No man, Lord.” He answered her saying, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11) Immediately in the next verse, Jesus spoke to the crowd saying, “I am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
There is a better way to eradicate sin from our midst. Excommunication stops one step short of killing an offender. It provides the discipline necessary to bring a flagrant sinner to his senses and to repent. It gives mercy a chance to heal the corrupted human heart through the redemption that is provided for in the sacrificial love of our Savior and to receive the forgiveness, the restorative flow of divine grace, that springs from Him.
May we not be quick to judge each other. Even if the judgment is just, and the punishment severe, may we pray for the Lord to show us the way to redeem the penitent sinner through the divine mercy expressed in our patient counsel and restorative care. (2 Corinthians 2:5-8)