“And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He returned to the temple. All the people gathered around Him, and He sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test Him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger.
They continued to question Him, so He stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, He wrote on the ground. Those who heard Him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Sir.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
~~John 8:1-11, Contemporary English Bible
In this story, religious leaders and legal experts were going to use a woman’s life to trap Jesus. Legal experts. At this point in Israel’s history, they were living by the Roman laws and trying to follow (at least in word) the stricter Jewish law. In the center of this microcosm God, the Maker/Formulator of the very law the legal experts were trying to use to trip Jesus up, enters as Jesus. Ironic. The story, though, just tugs at my heart.
This story initially stirs my anger. As a woman, my first reaction is: “Jerks! She wasn’t ‘caught in adultery’ alone. Where is her partner? Why didn’t they bring him?” The Law they were referring to, found in Leviticus 20:10, says “both must be executed.” In Numbers 5:11, there is a description of what to do if a woman is suspected of committing adultery, but not “caught.” Being caught means there is another guilty (and equally condemned) party, as well.
I feel empathy for this woman, standing in the middle of the crowd, exposed and possibly naked, with her sin proclaimed for everyone to know and judge. How often do we do this to people today, I wonder, while secretly hoping no one does the same to us? For some, the sin is obvious because there is still a stark contrast on some things between right and wrong. But for others, hiding has become easy. Heck, some sins we don’t even hide anymore, even at church functions (because eating too much is a fun way to bring people together).
We mustn’t lose sight of the accusers’ motivation, mentioned in verse 6. They were not asking Jesus what they should do because they wanted to know if there was any grace in the Law. This wasn’t, “Jesus, what would God have us do? This woman is our mother/sister/friend/neighbor. We love her. We don’t want to have to stone her, but the law says we must. We are heartbroken, what do we do?” No, this was a set-up. The woman, exposed with her life on the line, was a pawn for the purpose of finding a reason to bring an accusation against Jesus. And I wonder, why would this have been a dilemma for Jesus? How would this have tested Him? In order for it to “test” Him, there would have to be a compelling reason for Him not to say, “Yes. That’s what the law says. Do what you must.” The law is clear. She was “caught.” There were obviously more than 2 witnesses. (How on earth that was arranged is left out of the story.) Did He know this woman? Did she already have a “reputation”? Was she one of the crowd that had been following Him, intrigued by His teaching and wondering if she really had any hope? I wonder.
I also wonder about Jesus’ initial response. What was He writing on the ground? Was He just creating some space to let emotions settle and for people to think? Did He write or draw something that struck their hearts? Then, in the middle of his writing/drawing, He spoke that famous phrase, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”
Do you realize that He was speaking about Himself? He was the only one in the crowd who had not sinned. By His own words He had the authority to start the execution sentence. But He didn’t. He just bent down and wrote on the ground some more. The others knew their personal sins. Imagine one of them picking up a stone to throw and the guy standing next to him saying, “Um…Fred… umm…Hold on a minute. I know you can’t start this. You lied to me yesterday.” So they went away one by one, led by the elders. Were these the same elders who had led the charge to test Jesus?
The story ends with so much hope for each of us. Jesus, the only ONE without sin who could have cast the first stone says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” “I don’t condemn you.” Do you need to hear that from Jesus today? HE DOESN’T CONDEMN YOU. Yes, you are guilty. You may be caught. You broke God’s Law. You broke His heart. The sentence is clear. But you are not condemned by the only One who has the right to pass that sentence. Because of Jesus, you are free to go and sin no more. You can leave the past behind you and walk in new life. Others still may not trust you, they may judge you, or expect you to keep doing what you have before. In fact, they may still be hurt by what you have done. There may be natural and logical consequences you have to face because of your sin. I don’t know. But you have a chance to start anew today, to live differently from this point forward, to make better choices, to walk free of eternal condemnation. Trust Jesus.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in Him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
“This is the basis for judgment: The Light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the Light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the Light and don’t come to the Light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the Light. Whoever does the truth comes to the Light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”-John 3:16-21, Contemporary English Bible.