The Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”ruckus can be heard a block away, interrupting the peaceful yawn of the city. And into the midst of the crowd that has gathered to hear Jesus teach, she is thrown.
Barefoot and disheveled. Sweaty from the struggle. A mop of hair hangs in her face her jaw is fixed. Her teeth, clenched. Her lips, pressed into thin lines of resistance. Her nostrils, flared in breathy defiance.
“Adulteress” they charge. “Caught in the act”. But caught by whom? And Why?
The teachers and Pharisees appeal to the Law and call for the death penalty. But for a person to be put to death the Law requires that there be at least two eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses to the very act of adultery.
Can you picture the scene? Peeping Pharisees nosing around her windowsill. How did they watch? How much did they see? And were not their hearts filled with adultery when they eavesdropped on that clandestine rendezvous? At least two witnessed the at. Yet without compunction for the sin. Or compassion for the sinner.
When they had seen enough, these guardians of morality stormed the door to the bedroom where she lay naked and defenseless. She struggled as they wrestled to subdue her. They pushed her into her clothes like a pig into a gunny sack to be taken, kicking and squaling, to market.
Thus she arrived at the temple. Torn from the privacy of a stolen embrace and thrust into public shame.
This is it, she tells herself, this is the end. Her fate forever at the hands of men. From their hands she has received bread. Now it is to be stones.
And so she stands there, sullen, her eyes deep sinkholes of hate. And every eye that circles her returns the searing hate, branding a scarlet letter onto her soul;. Every eye that is except for the eyes of Jesus.
Meanwhile, where is her lover? By prior agreement allowed to slip through a window? Part of the plot, no doubt- the plot to ensnare Jesus. For it is not the woman they want to bring down or the Law to uphold. It is Jesus they want. She is only the bait; and their question, the spring to the trap.
Time and again Jesus has shown compassion on sinners. And yet the Law of Moses is uncompromising and impartial in its treatment of them. If the religious leaders can somehow wedge Jesus between his loyalty to the stone tablets of the Law and his steadfast love for sinners, certainly that would squeeze out his true for all to see. If he frees her, they reason, as he most certainly will, he forsakes the Law. Then they will have cause to accuse him before the Sanhedrin.
The question they use to spring the trap is not a theoretical one like, “whose wife will she be at the resurrection?” It is a question of life and death in whose balance hangs not only the fate of this woman but the fate of Christ as well.
Disappointingly for the leaders, he doesn’t enter into a debate. He simply stoops down to gather his thoughts.
The silence is deafening. The drama, intense. With his finger he writes in the sand. The necks of the righteous crane to decipher the writing. What he writes will forever remain a mystery. Maybe it is the sins the crowd has committed. Maybe it is a quote from Moses. Maybe it is the names of the prominent leaders there. Whatever he writes is for their eyes, not ours. And whatever it is doesn’t register, for they persist in pressing him for a judgment.
Jesus stands up. All eyes are fixed on him.
At last, he responds, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The words are disarming. One by one the stones thud to the ground. And one by one the men leave. Starting with the oldest, perhaps because they are the wisest- or the most guilty.
Jesus stoops to write again. This time it is only for her eyes.
They are alone now- lawbreaker and lawgiver. And the only one qualified to condemn her, doesn’t.
The Savior stood up for this unknown woman and fought for her. She is his victory. He stands up again, this time to free her.
“Has no one condemned you?” he asks.
Timid words stumble from her lips, “No one, sir”.”
She waits for a reply. Certainly a sermon must be gathering momentum in the wings. But no sermon comes.
What comes are words of grace, “Neither do I condemn you,” and words of truth, that her life of sin needs to be left behind. The trembling subsides. Her face softens. The furrows on her forehead relax. Should I Stay? Should I ask him a question? Should I thank him? The questions race through her mind.
She looks into his face. His forehead relaxes. It has been an ordeal for him too. He takes a breath and his seems to say “Go, you’re free now.”
She opens her mouth to saying something. But the words don’t come. She walks away, but before she leaves, she stops. . .pauses. . .and looks back to thank him. But Jesus is seated, his face, praying to the Father. And she turns to go her way, leaving behind her a life of sin.
There are no tears as she leaves. Years later there will be. At odd moments during the day; when she looks at her children asleep in their beds; when she waves good-bye to her husband as he walks to work in the morning.
A marriage she never would have had. . . . a family she never would have had. . .a life she never would have had- were it not for the Lord who stood up for her when others wanted to stone her, who stooped to pick her up and send her on her way, forgiven.
Dear Lord Jesus, I confess with shame that there are times I have stood in the midst, condemned. And there are times I have stood in the crowd, condemning. There are times my heart has been filled with adultery. And there are times my hands have been filled with stones.
Forgive me for a heart that is so prone to wander, so quick to forget my vows to you. Forgive me too for my eagerness in bringing you the sins of others and my reluctance in bringing you my own. Forgive me for the times I have stood smugly Pharisaic and measured out judgment to others. Others I’m not qualified to judge. Others, who you, though qualified, refused to.
Help me to be more like you, Jesus-full of grace and truth. Help me to live not by the letter of the Law but by the spirit of compassion you showed to that woman so many mornings ago.
Give me, I pray, the wisdom of the older ones in regard to the stumbling of others so my hands may be first to drop their stones, and my feet, first to leave the circle of the self-righteous.
Thank you for those sweet words of forgiveness: “Neither do I condemn you.” Words that flow so freely from your lips. Words that I have heard often when I have stumbled. And in the strength of those unmerited words, help me to go my way and sin no more…
Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire,192-196