St. John 8.vv.1-11

~ Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?". They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her". And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 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. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?". She said, "No one, sir". and Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." ~

Most Bible scholars are of the opinion that this passage is not part of the original Gospel of St. John, especially since in some ancient manuscripts it is included in St. Luke's Gospel. It has, however, close affinity with the kind of material St. John records of Jesus, and, whatever its source, we are grateful that the episode was recorded and not lost.

The main message of the story is very lovely; though there are some unlovely aspects to the passage. The latter consist in the attitude of the Pharisees and Scribes towards Jesus and the sinful woman. Jesus is addressed as "Teacher", which coming from them was probably hypocritical, but there is no doubt that they deliberately tried to entrap Jesus when they presented the dilemma, "Do you or do you not subscribe to the Law of Moses?". The implications of condemning or exonerating the woman were fraught with dire consequences, but the insight and skill of Jesus frustrated their evil designs. As for their attitude to the woman, they appear as harsh and censorious; in their minds they had already condemned her to death for her sin. It is true that idolatry, murder and adultery were punished by death in ancient Israel. Indeed in the Book of Numbers we have an account of a man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath and was put to death for his sin! It is, however, unlikely that in Jesus' day the bystanders would have practised lynch law out of fear of their Roman overlords. It appears that these cruel bystanders were playing a devious and very unpleasant "game".

The true greatness and glory of the story lies in the attitude of Jesus towards the bystanders and the woman. Having skilfully avoided the dilemma, Jesus brought home to the accusers their own sinfulness, their secret faults and sense of guilt, so that they all slipped quietly away. As for the woman, we see as always the understanding and compassion that Jesus showed to sinful humanity. Some people mistakenly think that Jesus tacitly condoned the woman's sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus condemned sin but loved sinners despite their sins. He hated sin but loved sinners. Jesus must have known how much the woman had already been punished in her own conscience and public conviction of guilt. If only we knew the subsequent history of the woman, but that is not to be!

Jesus gave her new life, raised from the "death" of her sin. He gave her new hope. The Gospel of Jesus is the gospel of further chances to become what God willed her to be; for he saw her not simply as a bedraggled and wretched creature condemned to death for her sin, but as one capable of becoming a dear child of God.

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