Today’s passage: John 8:2-11
This weekend, Daniel Patterson is bringing us a message from John 8:2-11. The incident that John describes for us is particularly pertinent to the age in which we live. In your Bible, you might notice that this passage is in a section demarcated with a line about it not being in the earliest manuscripts. This is true. The evidence from the oldest manuscripts, together with a few other clues, is that this bit of John wasn’t originally written by John. But the incident describes fits perfectly with the character of who Jesus is, as described by John. And it’s quite possible that this was a well known bit of teaching handed down in the church and eventually inserted here. John himself notes at the end of his gospel that there were many things that Jesus did that he simply didn’t have space to include. This was quite possibly one of those!
But to the story as we have it recorded.
While teaching a crowd at the temple, some of the religious élite of the city approached Jesus with the sole intention of getting him to say something that they could use against Him. It seems to me that they were of the opinion that Jesus could either be gracious, or else He could be true to the will of God. They’d caught a woman in the act of adultery – and were dragging her before Jesus. The law, they knew, demanded that she be executed for her actions. But this Jesus was the kind who showed incredible love to sinners. The kind who showed incredible grace. If they could make Him act contrary to God’s will, they could (in their minds, at least!) unmask him as a fraud and imposter.
But, of course, Jesus doesn’t fall into their trap. He stooped down and wrote in the dust. What He wrote we’re not told. And then He spoke: Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone. And then He went back to writing in the dust.
If we’re honest, none of us can stand up to that sort of scrutiny. And so all the religious élite slowly slipped away. Eventually, only Jesus and the woman were left. Looking up, Jesus saw that the accused stood there alone and asked, “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord.” “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
It’s a beautiful incident – showing us the heart of God.
But who is it that you and I most represent in the story? Some might think of themselves as the woman – thrown before the spotlight of public ridicule and hate for their choices and mistakes. But I suspect that us Christians – followers of this same Jesus! – are most in danger of being like the religious leaders of the day. We can get so caught up in being right, that we stop seeing people as people – but as mere means to an end. Nobody there was concerned about this woman’s spiritual, emotional or physical welfare. They were simply using her as a tool against Jesus.
And we can so easily become so self-righteous – caught up in identifying the sins and errors of others. But Jesus won’t let us get away with judging others when we ourselves are not perfectly above reproach.
And then there’s that other question this story raises… how is it that Jesus doesn’t condemn this woman? Isn’t his mercy contrary to God’s law? And since Jesus is our example of what the perfect human life is meant to be like, how are we to walk the line between grace and law?