Gospel of John 8: 1-11 (NIV)*
1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?”
11 “No-one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Clearly Jesus is central to this story. People gathered in the temple courts at dawn to be taught by him. It was Jesus whom the teachers of the law and the Pharisees set out to trap. It was to Jesus that they brought the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, through his words and wisdom, was in command. It was Jesus who remained as the people dispersed. It was Jesus who then dismissed the woman without condemnation, instructing her to go and to leave her life of sin. It was Jesus whose teaching so impressed his disciples that this incident was recorded.
Ironically, only one person in this story was without sin and entitled, therefore, to be first to throw a stone at her. That person, Jesus, instead showed mercy.
What is the key message for a reader of this passage today? I believe it depends on each person’s own story and unique relationship with Jesus.
Some will marvel at his divine wisdom and be awed by his authority as he totally demolished “the case for the prosecution” mounted by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.
Some will be grappling with an ancient or perhaps very current guilt of their own. They may take heart that forgiveness for the woman’s sin in this story indicates that their own sins are not beyond forgiveness from Jesus.
For some the issue may be disappointment that they are unable to correct their own judgemental natures. Their behaviour might resemble that of the Pharisees, no matter how hard they try to change. Jesus knows human nature; he knows the struggles within each person and he is able, when we ask sincerely, to renew us through the Holy Spirit.
A key message for me is that the holy and righteous God, in whose presence no sinful being may stand, has through Jesus made a way for undeserved mercy to prevail and triumph. We call it grace, the gift of God to those who follow Jesus and put their full trust in him.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
* I do not enter into conjecture as to whether this passage initially appeared in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John or elsewhere.