Imagine entering the hustle and bustle of a congested festival space amidst increasing heat from an autumn’s morning sun.
You see a man seated, teaching a throng around him. As you approach, you begin to hear his doctrine when, quite abruptly, a determined group of men makes their way through the crowd with a woman in tow. They bring her directly to the man and stand her in front of him and at the focus of the congregation. And then, after such interruption of his teachings, they demand his response.
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him firstcast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their ownconscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.
As you watched the scene, what drew your attention? Did you strain to see what the Savior wrote on the ground? Were you watching His facial expressions? Were you riveted on the adulteress? Did you watch the scribes and Pharisees, reading their body language and posturing? Did you scan the congregation to see reactions from the crowd? Did your attention move on to something else like the feast celebrations happening in the temple court?
When I encounter this story, I always look for the man taken in adultery. Where was he? Was he part of the scene? If he was, according to the law of Moses, he failed to take his place in the place of judgment, because
[T]he man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
I next look for the witnesses. Where are they? The group of lawyers said that the woman was taken in the act, but no one stepped forward to accuse. In a sense, a true witness would be without sin and would be obligated to act.
I notice that Jesus never asked the woman if she committed the sin. The law required witnesses to testify to that. He didn’t assume she’s an adulteress. I’ve always thought “Go and sin no more” implied that she’d committed the act, but Jesus said those words to many people not under judgment for adultery. Jesus would tell me the same thing and I haven’t committed adultery.
So while I’ve repeatedly left the scene assuming that the woman was an adulteress because the Pharisees said she was, I realized that, just like during the illegal trial of Jesus, she could have had false accusers just using her to trap the Savior.
Maybe the woman was actually complicit with the plot to destroy Jesus. We just don’t have all the story details to know.
Regardless of her circumstance, Jesus did not condemn her.
That this encounter was totally inappropriate should be obvious. The law specifically named judges and/or priests to officiate trials of lawbreakers. Both parties and witnesses should be present at the city gate before judges or before the priest in the temple.
As in other times, Jesus continued to assert, “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true…It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.” Just as He rendered to Caesar what was Caesar’s, in this case, He left temporal judgment to the appropriate judges.
I noticed that when everyone left, all of the bystanders and the original accusers, that’s when Jesus spoke to the woman about her personal story. Not only does this speak to His mercy and love towards this woman, but also His respect for her privacy. “Go and sin no more” was said without fanfare or audience.
It was an invitation issued to an individual, and He issues the same invitation to each of us individually, too. “Go and sin no more.”