The story of the adulterous woman can be found in John 8:2-11. This account is a true testament of Jesus’ mercy; forgiveness but, most of all, His grace. Let’s unpack the story! On the move with no time to stop and read? No problem! Simply press play on the audio, below. Feel free to download and share it also.
The eighth chapter of John begins with Jesus preaching and teaching within the temple. He was then suddenly interrupted by a commotion which turned out to have been caused by the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes, for those who are unsure, were basically scholars of the Torah (the Jewish Bible, if you will) who were considered experts of the Law. The Pharisees were probably the most powerful religious group during the time of Jesus. They were also scholars of the Torah and believed that the rules and regulations contained within the Law were to be followed to a tee, with no exceptions. In other words, they placed more value on religion than they did on people.
These two sects were Jesus’ biggest denouncers at the time because the scribes did not like the fact that He seemed to be speaking of His own authority, without any deference to the experts that had gone before Him, whereas the Pharisees were highly critical of His seeming flouting of the Law. Both groups were also very concerned with preserving the purity of the Jewish faith; so they saw Jesus as a threat- especially since He had many followers and only seemed to be growing in popularity. They would therefore take every opportunity that they could to test Him “that they might have something of which to accuse Him;" this occasion was no different.
Prior to the point at which this chapter opens, the scribes and Pharisees had somehow managed to catch a woman “in the very act of adultery”. I have always questioned how but, happening upon that scene, they seized her and “set her in the midst” of the temple. I believe that they would have gone for maximum impact here; so I don’t think that they would have given this lady the opportunity to clean herself or cover herself up. They meant to humiliate her and reveal her shame to everybody present, particularly Jesus.
In order to test Jesus, they told Him how the woman had sinned but they also took it a step further by telling Him what the Law dictated that her punishment should be (being stoned to death). They then asked Jesus whether He agreed and what His verdict was regarding what should be done with this woman; yet Jesus did not answer them (or even point out their hypocrisy for only seeking to punish her and not her lover (for a true fulfillment of the Law would have been to stone them both)). Instead He wrote on the (sandy) ground with His finger and, only when pressed for an answer, replied “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”.
On examining their consciences everyone present realised that they were also sinners in some way, shape or form. They therefore left the temple one by one until only she and Jesus were left, sparing her life. Most people stop the recounting of this story here, emphasising the importance of not judging other people, and, whilst that is an integral theme in this tale, it is not the part that stands out to me. The part that stands out to me is the dialogue that occurs between Jesus and this woman after everyone has gone (which is detailed in John 8:10-11):
“When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’”.
To me, the whole tale of the woman caught in the act of adultery is one of grace and forgiveness. She did not end up before Jesus of her own volition; yet it was the best thing that could have happened to her. She came before Him with and in her sin but He acquitted her and did not condemn her.
The dialogue between Jesus and this woman is the most poignant aspect of this tale for me because we, like her, are by no means perfect. We each have our struggles and vices; individual challenges and issues. Yet this woman teaches us that no matter the scale of these, we can come before Jesus and be as bold yet vulnerable as she was in the confession of our weaknesses. It is in this way that we obtain “mercy and find grace to help in time of need” as she did. Through this woman we learn that Jesus is always ready and willing to forgive, and extend His grace. She also teaches us that, that same grace empowers us to no longer be victims or “slaves of sin” but to “go and sin no more”.
What about you, lovely? I hope you realise that there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God; nothing that you could say or do to cause Him to leave you or forsake you. Whatever the size, shape, depth or breadth of your sin is, confess it to Him. No matter how many times it comes up, go before Him for “a righteous man falls seven times and rises again”. The sin is not in falling, my lovely, the sin is in staying down.