First of all, most people (scholars) are quite convinced that this story is not authentic—that it was added later. It is absent from all the earliest manuscripts. As far as anyone knows, it’s not inspired as the rest of Scripture. But it still rings true, and sure sounds like Jesus, so we’ll still talk about it.

Jesus sat down at the temple mount to teach the crowds, when he is rudely interrupted by some trouble-makers trying hard to trap him, again. This time it’s a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. First of all, were they spying, or was this a set-up, that they caught her in the act? Secondly, where’s the man? If they caught her in adultery, didn’t they catch him too? The whole thing smells of rotten fish.

So, they humiliated the woman and had her stand in the middle of the group while they announced to anyone within earshot on the temple mount that SHE WAS CAUGHT IN ADULTERY!! They ask if Jesus approves of stoning her. If he says no, he’s disobedient to the Law of Moses. If he says yes, he comes across as cruel, and no friend of sinners. Is God loving, or is he just, because in this case (so they think), he certainly can’t be both. Oh, they’ve cooked up a good trap this time.

So Jesus sort of ignored them, and let the scene work itself into a sort of frenzy. Finally Jesus stands to speak, and the crowd listens with anticipation. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Sure, judge her, but only if you are without sin yourself an take the seat of judge—otherwise, you may be the next one “caught in the act” of something and thrown into the center of the wolf ring. The only one who is fit to judge is the one who is sinless.

Now the pressure is on them. If they call for her stoning, they claim to be without sin. Hm, that’s a problem. But if they walk away, Jesus is not trapped! Confound it. It’s the perfect answer, for one by one they leave the scene, unable to take the position of judge.

Jesus, in mock surprise, asks, “Where are your accusers? Is there no one left to judge you?”

“No one, sir,” she says.

“I don’t judge you today either,” said Jesus. “But return home, and leave your life of sin.” With a master-stroke he is both loving and just. He is fair but not weak. He is loving but not lawless.

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