I will admit, this title seems a little brutal. It comes after years of consideration about how people react towards the confessions of terrible sins. I am part of a Christian community, and as a part of God’s church, I feel I must speak out regarding the topic of adultery. Few people enjoy discussing the topic of adultery. A woman confessing adultery fears this discussion at her core. The church as a whole rarely will bring up the topic unless someone in ministry has “fallen” into such a sin. Small groups discuss it if it applies to a particular bible story they are studying, but individual members will avoid confessing that they are struggling over feelings for someone other than their spouse. Should a women admit she has had an affair, she will often experience less than Godly reactions from her Christian family members. Lets be honest, this topic is spoken of more in the aftermath of adultery…as gossip. That’s hard for me to admit but unfortunately it is true.
I want to proceed with the story of Jesus and one woman caught in the act of adultery. It begins in John 8 where Jesus was teaching in the temple courts. Many were gathered around to hear him. vs 3: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him.”
I find it interesting that the greater concern was not for this woman and her sin, but for the sake of trapping Jesus. The primary purpose of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees was to elevate themselves over Jesus. They put their cares over the cares of God. God wants to reconcile us, the world wants to condemn. When we want to condemn, we are placing ourselves above God.
Vs 6 continues- “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 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.’
It’s interesting to me that every time we attempt to discuss Jesus’ judgement on someone else’s sin, He chooses to speak to us about our own sin.
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
‘No one, sir, she said.’
‘Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin.’
This sounds like a simple story about Jesus extending grace to the fallen woman. I want to go deeper personally into this story with a question- who are you in this story? Who do you relate to?
Here are the characters:
- The individuals in the crowd learning from and watching Jesus with his transactions in the temple square as this story unfolds. You might relate to how they must have perceived the situation. If so, would you be curious about what exactly the details were with this woman and her sin? Would you be angry at the intrusion of the Pharisees and the teachers? Would you be irritated by the woman for putting herself in such a situation? Would you be frustrated at how Jesus seemed detached from the drama?
- The Pharisees and teachers. These are the people who really knew their bible verses. They spent their entire lives learning the word of God. They were well known and well accomplished citizens. Along came this Jesus who spoke with authority over the word of God. Before Jesus, they were the ones with the authority and respect. Now, people are following a different teacher. What reaction would you initially have to this situation? Would you want to test this new authority figure that is taking your followers from you? What would you really do if Jesus said, he who is without sin,
- Jesus. Can you relate to him as he is caring about the ministry of his Father? Have you ever been interrupted in the way that Jesus was interrupted on this day? Have you ever felt trapped like this and wondered what to do? The passage says that he “straightened up” two times during this story. The first time to speak to the accusers, the second time to speak to the woman. He never voiced irritation, just truth that leveled the playing field on that day. He completely depended on the wisdom of his father and let the story unfold. He was a man without sin so technically he should have cast the first stone, yet did not.
- The woman caught. If you have ever experienced shame you might be able to relate to this woman. Imagine, your most personal and embarrassing failures on display for all to see. How would it feel to have all those eyes upon you? What words would you hear from all the onlookers? Would you hope for anyone to save you? Would you be bracing for the first stone, then the second? Would you guard yourself or lay down to die?
- Finally, we have our last group of characters. These are the people outside the temple, who have never cared about God. They never would think to go listen to a teacher of the law. Maybe they have heard of Jesus, but were disinterested. This group of people may have heard the commotion with the teachers and the sinning women and thought, “more drama as usual”. These people insist that private matters should be private. They will see the shamed woman exit the temple courts and watch to see what she does next. They might point at her and gossip. They may refuse to serve her and turn their backs on her, not wanting to be associated with such a woman. These are the people that will not accept her as a woman freed in Christ. They will label her as an adulterer for all her days. Let me add something I have said for a long time…stoning seems like an act of mercy to a woman confessing to a terrible shameful sin. Why? Because without Jesus, shame will bind her from knowing freedom. Without loving Christians pointing her towards the grace and mercy of a saving God, she will never know healing. Furthermore, the healing is never easy. There are consequences to a sin like this- painful consequences for both the adulterer and the victims. Truly, many women on a journey away from adultery will think that stoning may have been less painful.
- Are you still in the crowd watching Jesus, hanging on the next word or action since this event with the woman?
- Are you still holding a heavy stone?
- Are you considering your own sin?
- Are you leaving the temple courts freed but wondering “what do I do now?” Are you ready to repair the damage with those you have hurt?
- Are you still standing outside avoiding the woman or any woman associated with helping her?