This story is not just about the woman caught in adultery it is about mercy and justice that happens all of the time when are aware of Jesus' compassion for us. I am going to talk about the background of the story and then go on to set some challenges we might like to address during Lent.
This is a very exciting and complicated reading today from John. Rather than remembering this story only as the Woman caught in Adultery it should also be remembered as the Attempted Trapping of Jesus.
There are two themes in this story. The first and most important theme is the crowd of Pharisees and Scribes trying to trap Jesus by presenting a woman caught in adultery to a gathered crowd. These Pharisees and Scribes thought that Jesus would attempt to save the woman from death by proclaiming that the law of stoning was unjust and cruel. If Jesus did speak out, he would be accused of being a lawbreaker.
The second theme was the identifying the Woman and having her stoned to death in public and labeling her as a sinner. Of course Pharisees and Scribes knew that Jesus preached compassion and kindness so they assumed that Jesus would do his best to shield her and keep her alive.
This is the dilemma. If Jesus wants to change the law of stoning he will be arrested and labeled as a breaker of the law. When Jesus sees this woman about to be stoned he will want to stop the action of the crowd and try to heal the woman and the situation. What is to be done??
Jesus was very learned because he was a good Jew and studied in the temple. He knew that in Deut the law was very clear. It took two people to be engaged in the act of adultery and that further more these two people had to be witnessed in the act. This means that these gathered men had to have this act of adultery planned in advance. Also, someone had to burst into the house and witness the event. This now meant that that all of the gathered men had had been involved in the preplanning so all of these gathered men were accessories. They all were guilty of a crime. But apparently, it was the only way they could think of bringing this woman to the village square to try trap to Jesus. They needed to be sure Jesus was in village square at a certain time they were going to ask Jesus the question of what to do with this woman.
Let's look now at what happened in this high drama.
Jesus had gone to the Mount of Olives in the earlier part of the morning. It is a lovely section on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Usually scripture speaks of Jesus going to pray in the Mount of Olives. Certainly today was a day he was going to need all of the wisdom of God he could muster. He then left the Mount of Olives and went to the village area and started teaching the many people who came to him.
Suddenly, he was faced with an angry group of men pushing and shoving a woman so she could get close to Jesus. I am sure she was terrified and humiliated as she listened to the taunts of the men who were treating her as a disgusting object who needed to be stoned to death. I have always wondered where the man was who was also caught in adultery.
Jesus began to write on the ground with his finger and would not answer them at first. He then stood up and said something unexpected, "Let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her". He then bent down again to write on the ground with his finger. First the elders and then the rest left the meeting area because they had to admit to themselves that they were sinners. Jesus had broken out of the trap the men had set for him. Jesus did not suggest that the law was wrong nor did he condemn the woman. What a perfect solution.
Now Jesus speaks to the woman. He asks a simple question. "Where are they? Has no one condemned you"? Overwhelmed she answers, "No one sir". Jesus then tells her that he does not condemn her and that she should sin no more!!!
John lets us figure out what happens next. What do you think happened next? There could be many scenarios of the future of the woman and of the men who were asking for her to be killed. I am going to suggest some way some ways we can make some sense out of what just happened.
A way to find out more what God asks us is to look at Jesus to see what God must be like and what God might do. In this way I can hear and I can understand what God would be like. This comforts me in times I am discouraged or do not know which way to go. I can hear God, through Jesus speaking to me. I wish, however, that God would light up a billboard of the direction I should take. So far I have not seen any billboard or sign but I am still hoping.
I do have suggestions that I have taken from the reading that have helped me think more clearly about steps I can take this Lent. Perhaps you will find some suggestions helpful.
1. Equality -- Jesus spoke to the men and women equally by listening to the women and the group of men. They were human and equal in the eyes of God. Do we think of treat all people equally? Or, do we favor those who agree with us? I struggle all of the time to be gracious to the hierarchy in the church when I am deemed less that equal in God's eyes. God wants me to continue the reconciliation with all people because that is the model Jesus showed in this reading.
2. Mysterious -- This word mysterious invites wonder and awe because of Jesus drawing in the sand two times and then acting compassionately to the two groups of people he had been dealing with. Do things happen to you or to others that show surprise and delight? Has God had anything to do with it? Ask me the story sometime of someone sending me money in the mail for several months. I can really say that God has worked mysteriously in my life. If we all think about it there are many among us that have experienced God who touched their lives with awe and wonder. These experiences need to be shared to give others hope. God can make all things new even if our lives are complicated and seem to make little sense.
3. Grace and Mercy -- Jesus invites all to a life of grace and mercy this Lent. What an exciting way to live. We do not have to live with ongoing guilt. We do not have to live with regrets because of past actions. God's grace allows us to live with the freedom and excitement to make new choices. Grace is a free gift to all and it happens every day if we are aware. What could life be like if we forgive ourselves regularly for things we have done? As we heard in the story of Jesus, he forgave before he was even asked. Again, we can really see that God forgives us before we have to ask.
Jesus is the window on how we can see God. We are the window of how people see us. God's magnificence shines forth in all of us. I just believe that the inside of this church became brighter.