At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 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.
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, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 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.” ~ John 8:2-11
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The woman standing in the temple court was in a heap of trouble. She’d been caught in the very act of committing adultery. Adultery is a serious offense today, but in first-century Palestine, there were additional nuances to consider.
The definition of adultery was very specific. Sexual relations between a married or betrothed woman and any man other than her husband were adulterous acts. Adultery, therefore, was committed only against a husband, never against a wife. Adultery was regarded as a great social wrong and a serious sin on the part of both the man and woman participating in the sexual act. Mosaic Law dictated that both the adulterer and the adulteress were to be executed. The accuser was to cast the first stone or rock, with the community members continuing to hurl stones until the guilty parties died. The Bible doesn’t record any instances of this punishment actually being carried out for the crime of adultery; nevertheless, the prescribed legal penalty for the perpetrators was death.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem, who considered Jesus a serious threat to the status quo, had been trying to find a valid reason to have Him arrested and put to death. In this particular attempt, they brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery before a crowd gathered in the temple courts. To catch her in the act would be pretty difficult, right? And if she had indeed been caught in the act, where was her co-defendant, her sexual partner? The entire scenario seems suspicious—as if this woman had been set up in order to, in turn, set up Jesus. One thing is clear: the religious leaders weren’t motivated by any desire to uphold the teachings of the Law. Neither were they interested in carrying out justice. If those had been their objectives, certainly the woman’s partner would have been brought before Jesus with her.
What a stunning scene it must have been. The woman standing before them, her nudity having been hastily concealed by a simple frock before her accusers dragged her before the crowd. Shivering with fear, she was surely feeling that, in addition to her utter shame, she was about to be executed.
Every eye was on Jesus. Every ear fervently listened for His response. And what did Jesus do? He stooped down, wrote on the ground in the temple courtyard, and continued with His lesson. The religious leaders hadn’t anticipated that! And they could not let Him escape the consequences that His answer to their question would bring.
So they pressed Him. “What do you say, Jesus?”
Jesus straightened and answered, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The old left first, their heads hung low. They were the elders, who were esteemed by the younger people present, but who had amassed a vast list of sins during their lives. The young soon followed, each with their respective inventory of sins and shame buried in their hearts.
Each person knew the woman’s fate might well have been his own. Each knew that in Jesus’ merciful, masterful sparing of this woman, He also made mercy available to them. They didn’t know what price Jesus would pay to render that mercy. His death by crucifixion as the final perfect price for all sins was yet to be paid. But everyone understood the dramatic mercy He rendered that morning in the temple courts.
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I can relate to the woman brought before Jesus. Her sin was exposed before the crowd at the temple and before the teacher named Jesus. How ashamed she must have been. How she dreaded her punishment, which would be delivered swiftly. But the punishment never came. Jesus intervened on her behalf. He did not excuse her sin as it was quite serious. Instead He showed mercy. As He always did, He saw straight through to her heart. He saw her shame and her remorse after her sin was exposed. He knew how His compassion had affected her. Jesus told her that He did not condemn her, but that she should leave her life of sin. Surely her heart, entirely grateful and teachable, convicted her and prompted her to abandon her sinful lifestyle. Jesus’ tenderness had pierced her soul. She had met the embodiment of grace, love, mercy, and compassion. How could she betray the mercy of her Savior or reject His love?
(Excerpted from Messiah to the Messed Up by Sue Ciullo, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.)
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Sue Ciullo is a self-proclaimed mess. She is also a management consultant, professional speaker, and passionate student of the Bible. Sue lives with her husband in a suburb just outside Chicago, where they enjoy spending time with their adult children and their dogs. You can connect with Sue at her website, www.sueciullo.com.