A Woman Caught in Adultery.
It is early morning. The people are coming to hear Jesus. They are encircling him. Then this noisy gaggle of elders comes in dragging this woman. The listening people move or are moved aside and the circus begins. Jesus knows that the intent of the Pharisees and scribes have much less to do with this woman and much more to do with trying to catch him. Thankfully for this lady for without this secondary agenda, they would have just killed her and felt self-righteous about it.
Now she is before Jesus. Does she know who he is? No, it doesn't seem so, she calls him Sir, not Rabbi. She is a basket case, now a pawn in a political game. Publically center stage. How sad and how frightened she must have been. She knows she did wrong and the jury is out about whether she will live or die. Die would have been her bet before this new situation develops. Now, maybe there is a glimmer of hope.
Jesus is now the judge. He/you understand immediately the game that is being played. You know the hearts and minds of all present. I wonder what the people who were originally coming to listening to Jesus thought about all of this. Probably curious. They would understand some of the politics but probably not know the real game at play with the Pharisees. They would be spectators, at least until the rocks started to fly.
Jesus is not quick to judgement or action. He takes an indirect, not direct approach.
Here my Jesus, you stop the play - everyone stops and watches and waits. The horribly afraid woman, the self-righteous leaders, the passive, curious onlookers who just came to hear you teach. Everyone stops. All eyes are on you. It is morning, the sun is up but not too intense, it is warm but not hot. The scene stops.
I wonder what was going through your head. You see immediately the dynamic in play. You don't take the bait. You bend down and start writing in the dirt. There is a lot of commentary about what you might have written. Only those closest to you could know for sure. They continue to press for an answer. Well? Well? What do you say - Teacher? You are not taking that bait. You have argued them down before.
You stand. All eyes are upon you - all except the woman's. She is afraid to look up. Her fate, her very life is in your hands. She keeps her eyes down and her head down. She doesn't try to influence this. Her sensing is to stay still. She senses your power and your presence. Perhaps with eyes down, she can see what you have written.
You stand up. You look around the circle. Your eyes lock with each person - particularly the officials. Let whoever is sinless throw the first stone. It is easy to vilify the religious leaders, but they are not inherently bad people. They recognize what is sinful - within the law and know in their hearts that they are not perfect before God and in light of the Law. In the recesses of their hearts, conscious, and minds - they know Jesus speaks to them.
The elders first, recognize the truth and turn and leave. The younger, more self-assured, more arrogant, less self-aware, take a little longer to recognize the truth. They too turn away. Slowly everyone leaves. After the elders leave, the others feel safe to do so. The social stigma has been removed.
The woman senses that all of the people have left. All. All, except Jesus. This teacher. This judge. This powerful presence. She looks up and into your eyes. Kind but powerful. Who remains to condemn you? No one. Neither do I. Does he take her hand? Yes. You take her hand and look into her heart, not just her eyes. You know the truth and so does she. I do not condemn you but sin any more. Yes Lord. She goes off. She goes home quietly taking the back way. She takes off her clothes and bathes. She dresses simply. She is on autopilot. She gets something to drink and then she sits down.
The events of the last hours and of her whole life roll over her. Her own death was so close at hand and because of sex, sex with a married man. Really? She almost lost her life for that? Her life and her soul. Really?
Now what? What do I do? I am by myself. I can continue to be a prostitute or the other woman. This was a wakeup call. There probably isn't someone to whom she can turn. She goes back to Jesus. Not to talk to him, but to listen to him. She needs to learn more. He holds the key. He saved her life once, now she needs help in finding a new and lawful way.
What are the implications for me? There is the clear-cut lesson about judging because I myself am sinful. The more subtle lesson is to watch the criteria by which I judge or discern. Is it the social "legalistic" rule or is it Jesus' rule. This is important. Judgement or more accurately discernment is good - I am called upon all the time to look at people's behavior and things, and processes, and outcomes and try to discern if they are good or bad, or better or worse, or right or wrong, or for me or not. The caution here is to consider if the criteria is blindly cultural/societal or Jesus'. What is the call of love in this situation?
The other consideration is the role of elder. By recognizing and acting on their own guilt and imperfection by leaving first, the elders made it OK for the younger people to leave. The younger people could not have left first for fear of judgement by the elders. The elders created a zone of safety for the youngers. That is an interesting consideration.
This is a lot to consider. This is such an important passage. Blind rule-following. Cultural judgements. Discriminatory judgements against the weaker party. Failure to recognize my own guilt - and that guilt is guilt. Sinfulness is sinfulness. It may not be this particular sin, but sin is sin. I am guilty. I need God's mercy.
Jesus, source of forgiveness and lack of condemnation - but still directing "sin no more." I am not condemning you, but don't sin. Yes Lord.