During the time of Christ, the prevailing religious leaders thought that by maintaining the appearance of following God's law, they might inherit His promised blessings. Jesus taught that, while we are absolutely expected to be obedient, the content of our hearts determines whether we are pure. He taught that no matter how good the external appearances, the internal would finally determine whether we are truly obedient. Jesus said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."
While being internally corrupt, the religious leaders condemned those whom they felt unworthy of God's grace. In the meantime, Jesus would dine with sinners and fraternize with the spiritually and physically unclean. While those same leaders hypocritically preached of excommunication of sinners, Jesus' message was one of grace and forgiveness. He taught that the poor in spirit were blessed and that the meek would inherit the earth...the last would be first.
Does our modern religious culture have any parallels to that which Christ preached against? Do our outward religious practices belie our inward spiritual state? Then, do we condemn the afflicted while we ourselves are also afflicted? Or do we act with grace in accepting the shortcomings of others...while duly recognizing our own?
Are we like those proud teachers of the law, about to stone the woman to death for her transgressions, unable to see their own shortcomings? Jesus - in his amazing way - offered to allow the stoning if someone, who hadn't sinned himself, would throw the first stone. Even the Pharisees realized that they could not measure up to this standard and walked away. Do we Christians realize that our own shortcomings should prevent us from this same condemnation of others? Should these passages make us uncomfortable? With "much fear and trembling", they should.
Paul said: "...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". Being in an infinitely smaller state than God, we might challenge ourselves by asking whether we should feel [even remotely] justified when we self-righteously reject those for whom he died.