I was reading John 8 this morning, and in particular the account of the “Woman caught in adultery.” I take slight issue with that title, as no woman (or man for that matter) can be caught in “solo” adultery. As far as I am aware, it takes two to tango and so the guilty man in this case is a notable absence.
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.John 8:3-6 (NIV)
Notice how the Pharisees had little regard for this woman’s dignity. They forced her to stand in the midst of this crowd, enhancing her humiliation. While adultery is no crime in our day and age (although still very much a sin), in those days it was plain criminal. A little humiliation was perhaps the least of her worries however.
The Pharisees think they have Jesus cornered. He has two apparent choices; 1) to condemn her and permit them to stone her to death, or 2) to let her go unpunished, and thus break the Mosaic Law. To choose option 1 would dent Jesus’ reputation before the crowds that followed Him, and option 2 gave the Teachers of the Law grounds against Him.
Jesus says not one word. Instead, He bends down and begins to write on the ground. It is infuriating to not know what was written. Why would the author include such a detail if he was not going to give us the full picture? That, in fact, gives the text some credibility. If this were fictional, you would simply not include such a loose end. The truth of this narrative shows an honest report of what happened, even with this glaring omission. The author most likely did not know what was written.
We can take a stab however, guessing that as the finger of God wrote on the stony ground, that it is connected to the Ten Commandments written in stone all those years ago.
Assuming this is correct, as the gathered crowd read each commandment in turn, they realise their own sinfulness. Jesus challenged only those without sin to throw the stone at her, and not one did. The oldest left first, perhaps more aware of their own failings than the youth, but in the end Jesus remained alone with the woman.
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.”John 8:9-11 (NIV)
No one in the crowd condemns the woman, as no one had the right to. The only One without sin, and the only One legitimately able to cast the stone at her chooses not to.
I am astonished at His words to her.
“Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”
Be aware of the order of this. Jesus releases her from condemnation first, then instructs her to leave her life of sin. Were it the other way around, she (and we) might believe that we might first cleanse ourselves of sin before we can go out without condemnation. But not so! He releases us first, and in response, we leave our sins behind.
In the same way, God led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt before giving them the Law. It was not the case at all that God demanded perfect performance from them before He would act. Instead, He rescues them and later deals with their obedience.
I imagine myself in this account, most often as the woman caught. You can swap out adultery for any number of sins here, and still the premise holds. I stand before the Lord, and He has every right to condemn me for my sin. My head is bowed, and I am ashamed. I wait for the stone to impact me, and the pain that would follow. Yet it never comes. I dare not look up and into those eyes.
There is still a big part of me that feels I must earn God’s favour. When I am conscious of my sin, I pull away from God, believing myself to be unworthy to enter His presence. I have it backwards. He has dealt with my sins (and yours) once and for all. We enter into His presence, not because we are good enough, but because of His shed blood on the cross.
As we accept and rejoice in that truth, it spurs us on to a life where we no longer tolerate sin. We will never achieve perfection on this Earth, but we strive against sin and its effects as an act of praise to our glorious and generous God.
Reflect on this truth from Romans:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,Romans 8:1 (NIV)
As you meditate on this, soak it up and marinate (for want of a better word) in the fact that you face no condemnation whatsoever, let that lead to a life without habitual sin.
You cannot earn God’s forgiveness, and have no need to. It has been bought and paid for. Enjoy that gift, and live holy to please your Lord.