This narrative reminds contemporary Christians that people with evil intentions will go to any lengths to destroy you. They will use anyone, at any time, for any reason if they believe it will serve their nefarious purposes. Further, this “trial” before Jesus and the people is illegal because the religious leaders do not follow the Mosaic Law they say they uphold, and present both the man and woman for punishment. This also reminds us that powerful people will misuse the law, and misrepresent the law, when it is to their benefit.
6b-8 Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Based on the presented scenario, there seems to be no way that these charges can be denied. The woman has been caught in adultery, right? However, Jesus turns this deplorable situation on its head. He refuses to treat this woman as a pawn in his conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees. Also, Jesus will not play into their misogynistic or patriarchal games.
This is a note of proclamation and hope for the woman caught in adultery and contemporary Christians. Where else can sinners, mess-ups, and the disgraced turn if not to Jesus? What do the wounded, maligned, and despondent do if they can’t go to Jesus? How will the called out, weeded-out, and left-out, make it if they can’t seek out Jesus?
If we are honest, everyone has been in this woman’s situation at one time or another. It may not have been adultery, but all of us have been caught in something—a lie, a bad habit, a weak moment—and our mistakes are on full view, seemingly in front of the world. Once folk know something negative about you, they likely never let you forget it. Even the ones who say they love us will be the first ones to remind us of our wrongs. But the best thing we can do and the worst thing our enemies can do when we’re caught up in sin is to take it to Jesus.
The religious leaders thought they had Jesus trapped. They set this woman up in order to bring Jesus down! But Jesus stoops down and begins to write with his finger in the dirt. The text does not say what Jesus wrote. Some say wrote a list of sins. Others think he wrote accusations, naming the indiscretions of the accusers one by one. Whatever he wrote, it stopped the Scribes and Pharisees dead in their tracks. Then, he stood up and said, “Let the one who’s without sin throw the first stone at her,” and went back to writing in the dirt. With his statement, Jesus makes it clear that he does not deny Mosaic law. However, he reminds all who are present that everyone falls short of the law. Thus, all are deserving of punishment and in need of forgiveness.
The religious leaders came with blood in their eyes, but they left convicted in their hearts—or at least, they were shamed in the moment. They came to the to trap Him, but they left reminded of their own faults and failures. Rock after rock fell to the ground as they all walked away—from the oldest to the youngest.
When everyone left, Jesus looked up at the woman and asked, “Where are your accusers?” She said, “They’re all gone, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Then, I don’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.” Jesus’ words to the woman demonstrate that he sees her, not as a sinner, not as irredeemable, not as a person who is forever defined by their mistakes, but as a person who is worthy of redemption and restoration.
56 Abraham—your ‘father’—with elated faith looked down the corridors of history and saw my day coming. He saw it and cheered.” 57 The Jews said, “You’re not even fifty years old—and Abraham saw you?” 58 “Believe me,” said Jesus, “I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.” 59 That did it—pushed them over the edge. They picked up rocks to throw at him. But Jesus slipped away, getting out of the Temple.
In the final verses of the lesson text, we jump to the end of John 8 and encounter Jesus’ response to a question the Scribes and Pharisees pose: “Who does Jesus think He is? Does He think He is better than Abraham, our ‘father,’ and the prophets? All these died, so how can Jesus speak of not dying? Who is He claiming to be?” Jesus responds that any glory He seeks for Himself would be of no value. It’s the heavenly Father who’s actively working to glorify Jesus the Son. The one whom they call their “Father” Abraham, saw God in Jesus at work long before their time in first century Palestine. Jesus effectively says he not only knows Abraham—their father—but that he knew Father Abraham he was even born. The Jewish religious leaders don’t rejoice at Jesus’ coming as the Messiah, but according to Jesus, Abraham rejoiced to see that day. Further, the Scribes and Pharisees don’t know God, because if they knew God, they would not have treated the woman caught in adultery like she was an insignificant object, and they would not treat Jesus like he is the enemy.
By this time, Jesus’ opponents are furious. Not only does Jesus speak of living on forever, but he also speaks of his presence in the distant past. There is little doubt that Jesus means to identify Himself as God. As opposed to Abraham’s limited life span, Jesus places his own personhood as an existence that that transcends time. Jesus says he is infinitely elevated above Abraham because he is the, “I Am, that I Am.” The Pharisees and Scribes do not miss what Jesus is saying. He is claiming to be God boldly, audaciously, and unapologetically. Infuriated beyond words, they immediately pick up rocks to stone Him—regardless of the Roman prohibition against stoning as a death penalty. However, it is not time for Jesus to surrender his life. Therefore, John says he simply slips away and leaves the Temple.