The Woman caught in Adultery
John 8:2-11 2 Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Jesus was teaching the crowds at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus attracts people with his wisdom and compassion. People from all over are drawn to him. This makes other people jealous. They want to be in the limelight, they think that their points of view are better. They do what they can to reclaim center stage. So they purposefully disrupt Jesus’ teaching at the temple. They bring a woman into their midst, one who was caught in the very act of adultery. She’s most likely not dressed properly. Likely freaked out and scared to death. She knew as well as they did what the consequence was for getting caught – death by stoning. Jesus knew that too.
But the quote-unquote religious people reminded Jesus anyway what the Law said for this situation and tried to trick Jesus. They said, “Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” But Jesus knew that this is only half of what the Law of Moses said. In the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that took place before Jesus was born, in the book called Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verse 22 “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. So where was the man? I’m pretty sure it takes 2 people to commit adultery. Was it possibly one of them? Had one of the accusers slept with her in order to trap her in the act, so they’d have a pawn with whom they could trap Jesus?
The point is though that there is no accused man there. The scribes and Pharisees only brought the woman. They didn’t follow all of the law. The man was absent and eyewitnesses weren’t called. Technically they could not stone her because they didn’t meet all the requirements. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go! Their plan was flawed from the start. But they pressed on regardless.
So the trap they set for Jesus is as follows: If Jesus were to say that the woman should be stoned, then he would get in trouble with the Romans, who had taken away the Jewish people’s right to capital punishment. Only Romans could execute people these days, and you didn’t want to get on their wrong side. But if Jesus said to let the woman go free, to be consistent with his message of God’s love and mercy, Jesus would be transgressing the Law of Moses the way they saw it.
Remember last time we met, we talked about Jesus coming to fulfill the Law, and not to get rid of it. He came to take the Law that had made people legalistic and hard and show them that the Law was intended to bring love and compassion into the society. So Jesus couldn’t very well just dismiss the Law if he had come to fulfill it, right? Of course Jesus upholds the Law of Moses; he is God; he is part of the team that wrote the law in the first place. Yes, the woman was caught in adultery, but there is neither the guy she was with nor eye witnesses. Her case wouldn’t even stand in court and Jesus knows it.
Jesus, of course, also knew they had come to trap him. But Jesus is much smarter than them. For Jesus, for God, the world looks different than it does for us. We like to divide things into opposites: white and black, rich and poor, straight and gay, male and female, right and wrong. But God doesn’t see the world in these terms. God sees human beings, all intimately loved. All of us beautiful, broken, flawed sinners, but most importantly, deeply loved. That is how God sees everyone! That is how God sees the woman and the crowds who come to hear him and even the scribes and Pharisees.
Some Christians use the term “Third Way” when they talk about Jesus. God’s way is a third way. Not this way or that way, not black and white, but God’s way. And God’s way is different than we often think. Jesus isn’t concerned with winning an argument. Jesus is on the business of winning souls, of showing God’s love. So he doesn’t even enter the argument. Instead, he does nothing. He write in the sand. Very curious. He ignores the accusers, the woman, and the crowds. He hunches down and writes in the sand. The story doesn’t tell us what he writes, so that’s not important. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t like the turn of events. They kept badgering him. So finally, Jesus looked up and told them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Why would he say that? Has he just declared open season?
What has Jesus done by saying that? So those who had set up this trap for Jesus were likely thinking along these lines: Who gets to throw the first stone? Can there be a second stone without a first one? Who is sinless among us? No one? Really? Absolutely no one? Ok, now we’ve been outwitted. If none of us can throw a stone, then what? How can Jesus even say that? He just called everyone a sinner! (Surprise! We are all sinners)
The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that the wages of sin is death. Death is what you earn by sinning. And absolutely every human being falls in that category. The scribes and Pharisees come to the realization that they too are sinners. They too deserve to die, just like the woman. Just like all of us. But that’s not the way of Jesus. Jesus is all about love and compassion and life. He wants a relationship with all of us. Jesus/God loves us like a mother loves her baby. Only perfectly. We all know we’re not perfect mothers, but God is. AND God wants nothing more than for us to also love Him.
So Jesus lets the Pharisees go. And the scribes. He extends them grace and mercy. Even after what they tried to do to the woman and to Jesus! He doesn’t condemn them. Through his silence, they take the time to think about it, and they realised that they were no better than this woman. They know they are not right with God. One by one they leave. They all leave and by leaving, they all admit that they are sinners.
And so the woman is left alone with Jesus. It doesn’t say, but I wonder if the crowd is still there – the crowd that Jesus had been teaching earlier. I wonder if they all witnessed the departure of the scribes and Pharisees, their admition of being sinners. I wonder what that means to them. What they are to do with that knowledge. I wonder if that means we’re all in that same boat, whether we are religious, whether we try to be good, or whether we get caught doing something we know is bad. We are all in the same boat. And like Paul said, what you deserve is punishment.
But then, Jesus says that he doesn’t condemn the woman either. The only person there who could have thrown the first stone because he is sinless doesn’t go there either. He tells her to go and not sin anymore. .Jesus grants pardon, not acquittal, since the call to leave off sinning shows he knew she was indeed guilty. He gave her her life. He wants her to live, not die. God is all about life, not death. In the mind of God, righteousness and justice are grounded in grace. Whenever grace is removed, we are left with the heartless hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus Christ didn’t overturn the Law. Instead, He re-established righteousness (being right with God) on the basis of grace. He told the woman to stop sinning so that she would be right with God.
Remember last time we did the Hokey Pokey? Why did we do that? To give the kids an idea of what turning around looks like. That’s what Jesus/God calls us to do. To turn around, to change our thinking from black and white to consider mercy and grace in our everyday living, just like Jesus did for this woman. To follow the Law, but through the eyes of Jesus. To love God, to love our neighbour, and to love ourselves because we are infinitely loved by the one who made us. We are lovable, beautiful sinners whose sins have been covered. They don’t affect our relationship with God because Jesus removed that barrier between us. All we need to do is believe that Jesus has broken down that barrier, to feel the love of God, and to love God back. Loving God is revealed through our love for others and ourselves. How simple and how beautiful.
Jesus says to you … and to us … Go and sin no more. I have written a new identity and a new future for you in the dust and dirt of this life.
Understood rather than condemned. Saved rather than stoned. Sin exposed yet covered in His love. – How about you?