They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 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. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Story That Isn’t There
Someone found a story about Jesus and his great forgiveness. What was to be done with it? Was it part of one of the gospels? Which one? In the west the story of the woman caught in adultery was circulating quite early, but in the eastern traditions it didn’t show up for quite a while. Jerome included the account in the book of John, where we find it here. However, it doesn’t belong here. the Feast of Tabernacles teaching of Jesus is broken in two by its insertion.
Should we just remove it again? John probably didn’t write it. However, it is a true story about Jesus with a high level of credibility. One of the reasons that it might have become dislocated from another gospel is because of its content. A woman is forgiven for sexual sin. In other cultures women are sometimes seen as the reason for men’s wayward sexual behaviour. If sexual sin in a woman can be forgiven as easily as Jesus forgives this sin, won’t we just have women seducing men at the drop of a hat? Sexual sin was seen in the early church as unforgivable by some. This story obviously contradicts that, so there was reason for some of the church fathers to suppress it.
However, this does reflect the grace and forgiveness that comes with Jesus. The sin is real but the forgiveness is also real. Jesus expects repentance as the response to such grace. Sexual sin is a serious sin. It involves satisfying self at the cost of another. It is often borne out of wanting something so badly that another person is not treated with the respect that they deserve. It destabilizes relationships and breaks up families. It sometimes forms unhealthy bonds and addictions that are enslaving. However, the greatest part of the sin is that it takes God’s purposes for sex and it twists them. Sexual sin is rebellion against a holy God. It is worthy of death.
The irony of the response is not that the woman is innocent and needs to be acquitted, but that her accusers are guilty and they need to examine themselves. They have received mercy from God, but they can not extend mercy to a woman. It seems that they have extended mercy to the man – he is not present. These men probably have lusted in their hearts. They are guilty of carrying the same corruption within their bodies. The only one who can condemn out of a position of purity is Jesus and he chooses not to.
We need to see what our motives are when we want to see others publicly disgraced or we want justice for our neighbours. Jesus sees the world as it is. He understands the horror of all of our sin. He doesn’t want to see our bodies broken and our blood soaking into the sand. He surrendered his body to that punishment so that we could walk away forgiven and free.
Jesus, I believe that you really did these things. You are merciful and forgiving in ways that we are not. Help us not to run with the crowd in condemning others and writing ourselves off too. Help us to take on your attitude of mercy and forgiveness. Help us to forgive ourselves of our darkest crimes and to accept ourselves as you have accepted us. Then help us to walk in the Spirit and sin no more.
- Do you believe this is a genuine story of Jesus? Why? Why not?
- What does this teach us about people?
- What does this story tell us about Jesus?
- Have you been caught up in a rush to judgment which condemned a public figure or personal acquaintance?
- Have you extended mercy and grace to yourself and others? How can you do this more?