…and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and 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.” (John 8: 9-11)
We don’t know what happens to this woman after Jesus speaks to her. Her response is not part of the story. Imagine it, though. This woman has come very close to being executed by a mob of men who are intent on stoning her as a pawn in their quest to entrap Jesus in that place where love and law meet. Coming so close to death must have been life-changing for this woman. Jesus’ words to these people show us that life is a place where compassion and conscience meet. He forces these men to see beyond themselves and realize that while they have made this woman’s sins public, they must certainly know that they have their own sins—sins for which they are not judged as harshly, not only because they are men but because men hold the power in their culture. The man who has committed adultery with her is not called to account as she has been, but Jesus reminds these men of privilege that God does not grant them a pass for their own sins. Then, gently, he reminds this woman that she, too, must search her own soul at the end of this road of compassion down which he has led her.
Wondering: How are we changed by our encounters with Jesus? How can we walk away feeling empowered rather than condemned by God?
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 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. 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.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. (John 8: 3-8)
Religious leaders, known for their self-righteousness, often try to trick Jesus into speaking out against the Scriptures. They bring an adulteress before him, and it evokes the question that, if she was caught in the act of adultery, why was the man who was her partner in committing adultery not also dragged before Jesus to be stoned. This injustice isn’t even addressed in the passage. But Jesus doesn’t need to address that because he beats them at their own game. At first he refuses to answer them, kneeling down and doodling in the dirt. When they persist, he rises to his full height and issues a challenge: Only the one among them who is without sin should presume to throw a stone at her. And Jesus, as the only one without sin, returns to ignoring them and scribbling on the ground. Their answer is the only one they can give. They walk away quietly, beginning with the older and, presumably, wiser ones, who know that this man speaks truth.
Jesus grants us the right to be human, but he expects us to be as generous to those around us.
Wondering: How can we find it in our hearts to avoid harsh judgments of those whose motives we can’t possibly understand?