John 8:1-11 Jesus rescues an adulteress from stoning
In Sydney, New York is a gravestone with just one word on it, it says ‘forgiven’. Obviously the deceased person felt this word summed up their life. I think the adulteress Jesus rescued from execution could have put the same word on her gravestone. Let’s go back to her story and imagine the scene.
It’s early morning; the sun is still hidden behind the Mount of Olives as Jesus arrives in the Temple courtyard. The early worshipers gather around, they are eager to hear what the inform teacher has to say before they go about their daily business.
Suddenly there is a commotion at the gate and a group of religious leaders arrive with a woman and head straight for Jesus. They push the woman forward in front of him and his followers and say, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” There is no record of Jesus or his followers making an issue of the fact that the guilty man was missing, so we can only assume that an adequate reason was given.
The Pharisees continued, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such woman. Now what do you say?” Jesus was placed on the spot in front of the crowd. The Pharisees thought that his teaching compromised the Law of Moses and they were concerned that he was beginning to lead large groups of Jews astray, so they looked for every opportunity to discredit him in front of the people. Of course, they were expecting Jesus to take the side of the woman as he had done with other sinners, for many of his followers were people with bad backgrounds. If he did, they would declare him an enemy of Moses, but if he permitted the stoning, well their stones were ready (Jesus’ response suggests this).
Jesus remained silent and started writing in the dust on the ground. As he wrote the religious leaders kept pestering him for an answer. Eventually he straightened up and I imagine he pointed to what he had written when he said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped over and continued writing on the ground.
Did he write a list of their sins? Did he write the Ten Commandments (that would be my bet – Jesus may have wanted them to see who was really breaking Moses’ Law). But even if the script in the sand had nothing to do with the incident, what Jesus said was powerful enough. Usually the first to throw their stones were those who could testify to the sin of the accused, but Jesus was saying that the first two throw their stones should be those who could testify that they had no sin. Jesus’ reply is one of those game-changing words of wisdom that he was so good at (remember “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – awesome).
Now, notice that Jesus did not change the Law of Moses; he just exposed its weakness. That’s right; the apostle Paul often spoke about its weakness.The law could expose sin, but it could not remove it. This is why Paul referred to it as the Law of sin and death. And Jesus was very quick to show everyone that they had all broken the Law of Moses. On another occasion he said ‘Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Did these stoning throwing religious leaders ever think of that? I doubt it. And there are people who still believe in stoning adulterers today who would do well to listen to the words of Jesus and follow his actions.
But let me ask you a personal question. Even if you don’t believe in stoning adulterers, do you withhold forgiveness? Do you act as if you never need forgiveness yourself? Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.” God only forgives us if we forgive others.
A man once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.” It’s simple, but it’s true. We cannot expect forgiveness if we don’t give it.
Well, back to the story. The Pharisees were conscience stricken and I can imagine them dropping their stones one by one and slipping away. And as the last one lingered, I can imagine the woman still waiting for the first blow and praying, “Oh God, make him go!”
And when he did, Jesus said to 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.” Wow, we certainly need more people to be like Jesus!
Do you think the woman left her life of sin? After all that, I am sure she did! It had been a close call, but more than that, it is the only right response to a God of such enormous grace.
Regardless of what religion you are from, if you are a follower of Jesus, I would ask you to think carefully about how he responded to the religious leaders in this incident and to ask yourself if you would do the same. I think Jesus modelled something for us all to follow.