Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This passage, often titled "The Woman Caught in Adultery," is a story that showcases Jesus' wisdom, compassion, and understanding of human nature. The scene unfolds with scribes and Pharisees bringing a woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, wanting to trap him with a question about the law of Moses. Their intentions are clear: to test Jesus and find a reason to accuse him.
The law was explicit. Adultery was punishable by death through stoning. But Jesus, ever the master of situations, neither immediately condemns nor acquits the woman. Instead, he bends down and writes on the ground. The content of his writing remains one of the great mysteries of the New Testament. Some speculate he listed the sins of the accusers; others think he simply drew to give them time to reflect.
I have my own thoughts on the matter. It is the only recorded instance of Jesus writing anything, but it calls to mind something that God wrote some time ago. Exodus 31:18 says: "When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God." If Jesus used a finger to write on the sand, he might have been drawing attention to the one who gave them the law, reminding them of the divine origin of the laws they were so zealously trying to uphold, yet missing the heart of mercy embedded within them.
Whatever the case, Jesus' next move is a masterstroke. He challenges the crowd: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
This statement is a powerful reminder of the universality of sin and the need for mercy. The accusers, from the oldest to the youngest, leave one by one, confronted by their own imperfections. The scene culminates with a poignant exchange between Jesus and the woman. With no one left to condemn her, Jesus, the only sinless one and the only one with the authority to judge, tells her, "Neither do I condemn you...Go now and leave your life of sin."
This story is not just about the act of adultery or the trap set for Jesus; it's a profound reflection on judgment, grace, and redemption. It underscores the idea that while the law serves a purpose, love and mercy are paramount. Jesus does not dismiss the woman's actions but offers her a second chance, emphasizing transformation over condemnation.
Interestingly, this passage is absent from some of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Its omission has led to debates among scholars about its authenticity. Some believe it may have been a later addition, while others argue it might have been removed because it seemed too lenient on adultery. Regardless of its textual history, the story aligns perfectly with Jesus' consistent message of grace, forgiveness, and transformation.
As we try to walk in imitation of Christ, let us exemplify grace and mercy in our own lives. This reflection has been relatively long, but I'd like to leave you with a little parable that mirrors the mercy and selective memory of Jesus in our story.
A monk and his friend were on their way to a nearby village. They had to cross a lake to get there, but they got into an argument just before getting into the boat that would take them across. The monk's friend slapped him. The monk didn't retaliate. He didn't say anything, either. He just scribbled a few words on the sand with his staff. "My friend slapped me," he wrote. The friend saw what he had written, shook his head in bewilderment, got into the boat, and off they went.
Midway through the crossing, the boat sprung a leak and began to sink. The monk didn't know how to swim, but his friend, an expert swimmer, came to his aid and helped him reach the other side of the shore. The monk thanked his friend, then, taking a pocket knife from his pouch, carved a few words on a rock. "My friend saved me," he wrote. His friend asked him what he was doing. The monk replied, "Some things should be forgotten, some things should be remembered. The things I write on sand, I choose to forget. The things I write on rock, I choose to remember."
God bless you.