“Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” — Scribes and Pharisees, John 8:5
There are very few events in our life that capture our complete, undivided attention. On an individual, personal level, the birth of a child, a funeral or a wedding are moments when we stop everything we’re doing and pay close attention. In general, a sporting event like the Super Bowl or a tragic event like 9/11 are moments when everyone wants to know what’s going on. In John 8:2-11, a woman who has been caught in adultery is brought into the temple where Jesus is teaching. In scripture, this is one of those moments where everyone who is present wants to know what will happen next.
Setting the scene (v. 2-7a): While Jesus is teaching, the scribes and Pharisees bring in a woman, setting “her in the midst” after she has been caught in the “very act” of adultery. What an emotion-packed scene. The scribes and Pharisees are experts of the law, and they immediately cite it (Deut. 22:22-24). But do you notice a problem right away? If she were caught in the act of adultery, where’s the man? What’s described here is a kangaroo court, not a legitimate process. John says in v. 6 that they did this to “test Him.” Their motives were wrong to begin with. They only wanted to bring Jesus down.
Jesus’ response to the scribes and Pharisees (v. 7b-9): Jesus puts the spotlight on them and highlights their hypocrisy (Deut. 17:6-7, 19:15-19). In fact, He places the burden on them. As a witness who casts the first stone, you better make sure you’re right. But Jesus’ response in v. 7 often generates a couple of common reactions: “Jesus is teaching against making judgments” and “You can’t say that about my sin; you’re a sinner, too.” However, if we were to hold those beliefs, that would contradict everything we read in the Old and New Testaments. What Jesus is saying is, “Let him who is without sin in this matter cast the first stone.” The scribes and Pharisees knew they were culpable in this, based on their response to Jesus. Not one them was pure in this matter.
Jesus’ response to the woman (v. 10-11): Again, Jesus’ response in v. 11 generates a couple of common reactions: “I can sin and Jesus says He won’t condemn me” and “Jesus let an adulterous woman off the hook.” Jesus never misses an opportunity to teach. He is not condoning her sin; rather, He warns her to not make this her lifestyle. Do not continue in this sinful way. Jesus is not suggesting to go and be perfect. But He extends to her grace and mercy she didn’t deserve.
Let us be like Jesus, not like the scribes and Pharisees. Extend to others the same grace and mercy shown to this woman and that is shown to us. Who are we like? When we encounter someone who has sinned, are we bending down to grab a stone, or bending down to help them up?