Let the one without sin cast the first stone (7:53-8:11)

Woman Caught In Adultery

It has been said many times that one should be careful when pointing the finger at another in judgement because each time one finger is pointed there are three pointing right back. In a sense, this is part of the lesson Jesus was teaching in this passage.

The first seven chapters of John’s Gospel have been about Jesus beginning to reveal who he is to those who are following him and those who are challenging him. We have seen a mixture of responses ranging from complete rejection of Jesus and his claims through to acceptance of his claims and willingness to follow him. All the way along John has written in order to convince people that Jesus is exactly who he says he is – light in the darkness, Son of God, Word of God made flesh, but in chapter 8 John is going to take a turn. Having beard witness to who Jesus is, John is now going to begin to bear witness to why it is that Jesus has come; why it is that humanity needs Jesus.

Jesus has returned to the Temple Courts (where the tables had been previously over turned) and was teaching there. In the middle of the lesson the ‘teachers of the Law and the Pharisees’ brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. These men were bringing this woman for no other reason that to try and catch Jesus out. They were not interested in seeing the religious law observed, or even in seeing the woman punished for breaking it. They were simply bringing her there to see what Jesus would do, and they were hoping that Jesus would tell her that her sins were forgiven. Had Jesus done so the teachers of the law and the Pharisees would have been well within their rights to have seized Jesus there and then for his blatant ignoring of the Law of Moses. This action was a devious trap and the woman was being used as a pawn in the bigger mission of these zealous religious leaders.

I always find the next verses a little bit humorous as I imagine the scene playing out. Jesus has been teaching in the Temple Courts, all this commotion has started up around him, and the religious leaders are there questioning him and trying to catch him out…and Jesus just bends down and starts drawing in the sand. No one knows what he was drawing – many speculations have been made, but no-one really knows. The religious leaders are not put off by Jesus’s refusal to pay them any attention and they keep on questioning him:

The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?
The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?
The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?

Finally Jesus stands up and says to them:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And then he crouched down again. Slowly, one by one, they each disappeared until none of them was left, only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asks her if any of them condemned her. She replied saying that none had, and then Jesus said that neither did he and that she should go and leave her life of sin behind.

Of course, if we take the woman caught in adultery as the subject of the tale, we see an amazing act of grace and mercy in her life as Jesus refuses to condemn her and send her off to live a new life. But remember, John is taking a turn here. He is beginning to reveal what it is in humanity that needed Jesus the Son of God; the Light in the darkness; the Word made flesh to come in the first place. With being the case then it is not the woman who we need to fix our eyes on in this story, it is the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who were willing to drag this woman to Jesus, using her to set a trap, hoping that Jesus would fall for it.

Jesus didn’t.

Instead, Jesus took the pointing fingers of these religious leaders and simply reminded them that there were three other fingers pointing back at them. Jesus was not saying that sin is unimportant, far from it. As Tom Wright says: “[Jesus] hasn’t said the Law of Moses was wrong; only that if we’re going to get serious about it, we should all find ourselves guilty.”

Wright goes on:

“…sin does matter…And the sin that matters even more…is the deep-rooted sin which uses the God given law as a means of making oneself out to be righteous, when in fact it is meant to shine the light of God’s judgment into the dark places of the heart.”

You see it? Jesus is pointing to the fact that ALL fall short when it comes to the Law of Moses. ALL have need for sin to be forgiven. ALL have need for a new life. ALL are in the same boat hence ALL ought to be careful about pointing the finger.

As I imagine this scene being played out, I try to imagine which role I would take. If I am honest, more often than not I probably find myself in the group of finger pointing men. If that is true then I am convinced even more of my need for Jesus today and every day in life.

Which role do you see yourself in? Do you have some fingers pointing back at you too?

As we each learn that we are all in the same boat when it comes to sin and the Law, maybe we need to hear those words of Jesus to the woman again:

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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