As a pastor, my job often involves counseling. I cannot think of any sin that is more painful and far-reaching in its consequences or more difficult to forgive than adultery. A look of lust can move rapidly to sexual infidelity, emptying out into a confluence of personal tragedy. The woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight was changed forever, not because of stones of judgment, but because of the gracious words of forgiveness spoken by the Savior.
As we look into the passage today, we find a sordid plot (8:1-6). Jesus was teaching at the temple, when a group of scribes and Pharisees (men who prided themselves in being separate from the world) pushed their way to the front of the crowd and threw a half-dressed, barefoot woman with her head hung in shame at Jesus’ feet. They encircled Christ and the woman and said, “This woman was caught in adultery, the very act!” (4). The scribes, ‘keepers of the law,’ and the Pharisees, ‘separatists,’ saw the law as cut and dry, black and white. They constructed man-made laws to protect good Jews from even getting close to violating the law. Obviously, adultery involves two parties so where was the man? It would have been nearly impossible for him to escape. Most Bible students agree that this was a plot to trap Jesus and so the man was allowed to escape. The Jewish leadership had such a hatred of Christ that they would stoop to unbelievable lows to discredit Him before the people! If Jesus said, “Stone her,” what would happen to His reputation as being a “friend of sinners?” Plus, the Romans who were in charge of executing criminals did not view adultery as a capital crime. If Jesus said, “Pardon her,” He would be breaking the law of Moses and condoning adultery. They thought they could pin Jesus to a problem that had no possible solution.
But then there is a silent exit (8:6-9). “Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger.” He was not doodling or stalling or unsure of what to say nor was He moving His gaze away because of the half-dressed woman before Him. The word for writing here is “katagrapho.” Grapho is “to write” and kata is “down.” Jesus wrote something down in the dirt. Could it have been a list of sins? Covetousness, idolatry, false witness, adultery, stealing, impure thoughts, hatred. While Jesus silently wrote, the scribes and Pharisees peppered Him with questions. Then Jesus stood and said, “He who is without sin let him be the first to throne his stone.” Then Jesus stooped back down and wrote some more. Maybe He wrote the names of the accusers next to their sins? This is the only record of Jesus writing. It got very quiet and very convicting! That long silence was broken by the thud of stone after stone falling to the ground, released by self-righteous hypocrites. They came ready to kill a woman who had committed an awful sin, but they left quietly, confronted by their own wickedness and hypocrisy.
Lastly, we see a second chance (8:10, 11). The only ones left behind were the woman and Jesus. What an unlikely pair: a disheveled, sin-tainted woman and the heavenly, sinless Son of God. Jesus stood and looked into her face and asked, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” Listen to the words from the lips of the Son of God. “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Merrill Tenny observes, “Meeting a man who was interested in saving rather than exploiting and in forgiving rather than condemning must have been a new experience for her.” She had no idea what would happen when she was brought to Jesus. She was face-to-face with Him and must have recognized that He was a “holy man.” He did not condemn her but gave her a second chance to make something of her life.
This is an emotionally packed passage–ponder these lessons: first, a critical spirit is far more concerned with pointing a finger than lending a hand. The Pharisees and scribes were renowned for pointing fingers at others’ failures. Frankly, all of us could use a helping hand in our fight against sin. Be kind and compassionate, not critical and condemning.
Secondly, a convicted conscience will see the need to examine self rather than expose others’ sin. For some people, it is always ‘open season’ for rock throwing. Let’s not expose others’ sins when it is not necessary.
Finally, a compassionate heart realizes that everyone has a future as well as a past. Moses was a murderer; Rahab was a harlot; Peter was a Christ-denier. All were given a second chance. Practice forgiveness and work at restoring fallen people.