The Adulterous Woman


You ever read some things that capture your feelings so strongly? That has been almost every page of Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

In one such page she speaks of the story of the adulterous woman. It has always fascinated me which point people take away more strongly. For some people this is a “well then neither do I condemn you” story and for many others it’s a “go and sin no more story.”

This comes up every time I hear or read this story. Along with the fact that Jesus 100% without question wrote the names of the accusers in the sand hahahaha. (That’s my own stubbornness and not any I’ve encountered from a pulpit.)

Here is what Evans writes:

In the Book of John, the religious leaders take into custody a woman caught in the act of adultery. Armed with a Bible verse that prescribes the death penalty to adulterers, the scribes and Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus, throw her at his feet, and pose a challenge,

“The Bible says we should stone this woman. What do you say?”

It was a test. The religious leaders wanted to see if this controversial rabbi would be tough on sin, so they found themselves a sinner to condemn. They picked a clear-cut transgression with clear-cut consequences and passed around the stones. Surely Jesus would not be so foolish as to contradict God’s Word. Surely he would not risk the integrity of his ministry to show mercy to a sinner.

In response, Jesus does the strangest thing: he kneels in the dust and starts writing in it with his finger. All eyes divert from the trembling woman to the ground, all the accusatory shouts hush to curious whispers.

The text leaves the content of his message a mystery. Perhaps it was the name of the woman’s equally guilty partner, or a list of the sins of her accusers. It may have been a reference to Jeremiah 17:3 which declares that the names of those who turn away from God will be written in dust. Or maybe it was a reminder that “for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

When Jesus finally straightens up and shakes the dust off his hands, he looks at the religious leaders and says “let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The gospel tells us it was the oldest in the crowd who walked away first. The younger ones soon followed suit. Before long, all that was left was a scattering of stones and the mysterious words of Jesus carried off by the wind.

At least for a moment, the religious leaders got it: Jesus hung out with sinners because there were only sinners to hang out with.

“Where are they?” Jesus asks the woman after they have gone. “Has no one condemned you?”

“No sir,” she replies

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

We tend to look down our noses at these ancient people with their religious codes regulating everything from the fibers in their clothing to the people they touched. But we have our own religious codes these days. We have our own scapegoats we cast from our communities and surround with Bible-wielding mobs. We have sins we delight in taking seriously, biblical instructions we interpret hyperliterally, issues we protect over-vigilantly because it helps us with our sorting system. It makes us feel righteous.

“Let’s not forget that Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more,” some like to say when they think the church is getting too soft on other people’s sin.

To this I am always tempted to respond: So how’s that working out for you? The sinning no more thing? Because it’s not going so well for me.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve missed the point when, of all the people in this account, we decide we’re the most like Jesus. I think it’s safe to say we’ve missed the point when we use his words to condemn and this story as a stone.

Billy Graham once said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, Gods job to judge, and my job to love.”

Perhaps it would be easier for us to love if t were our own sin we saw written in that dust and being carried off by the wind.

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