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Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” – John 4:1-11
- “Where is the man?”
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- “Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” (Exodus 23:1)
- The sins of the accusers
- The sentence he was about to speak
These are among the suggested possibilities of what Jesus wrote as the scribes and Pharisees were waiting for him to respond to their demand. Isn’t it crazy that people would actually think they could put Jesus in a bind? Isn’t it silly to demand something of God? As if he must answer to us? As if we could box him in and prove his unreasonableness?
On this occasion the first act of grace was actually to the self-righteous accusers. Perhaps the woman had been caught in the act. Maybe she was notorious. Jesus will get to her later. But remarkably, Jesus does not take the bait of the religious righteous. In fact, whatever he wrote, he confronts their sin and their own need for mercy and forgiveness.
All these men drop their stones and walk away. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. One after another – beginning with the oldest – they walk away. No one is without sin, except Jesus. He could have thrown stones. He could have condemned the woman. But he did not. Grace will always look for a way other than judging and condemning. Grace will free people. Grace will put people on a different path.
Grace will even challenge the self-righteous. For they will either have to become even more judgmental and discredit others’ kindness, or give in to their own need for it. Grace opens the door to the latter. And when people walk through that door they walk into freedom.
That was certainly true for the woman caught in adultery. She was free to go her way, her sins were forgiven. She was to live a new life, “Sin no more.” But so is this true for the scribes and Pharisees who walk away one by one. They are free at least for the moment from a judgmental attitude that held them captive to a righteousness they could never really achieve.
We have no specific record of who brought the charges and what their lives were like after this encounter. Nor do we know for certain who this woman was. But we do know God’s grace frees us. If we’re not aware of our need for it, or we live in condemning judgment over all, we’re missing the freedom that Jesus gives as he showers his grace upon us.