The scribes and the 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.’
Adultery is a bad thing, a sign of lives gone wrong. Sometimes it represents a genuine search for love in a loveless marriage, for real fire in a grate that has stood cold for years. Often it is a selfish desire for extra pleasure. It causes deep and lasting pain and can completely wreck a life. It always leaves someone, be they a wife, husband or child, filled with deep regrets. If this woman is adulterous then there is pain, breaking of trust and guilt all over the place.
Yet there is something far worse than adultery here. Bullying a vulnerable person, and they always are vulnerable, is a terrible thing. I used to be a bully and I still look back with shame at the brutal pain I caused. This is a story of powerful men colluding with religion to bully and use a vulnerable woman. She seems to be nothing to them, a sinner, someone who has to be punished. Why is it that this dark cocktail of powerful men and religion has produced such a hard time for women over so many years? Even today we are still struggling with it.
The Christine Keeler story, as told in the movie ‘Scandal’ and then rehashed in a TV series is about a couple of young, attractive and very sexy women. They get involved with a bunch of rich, powerful and older establishment men. When the dirty washing starts to come out the men draw close together, the establishment supports them and guess who gets sent to prison?
Jesus, of course, ignores all the usual conventions and expectations. Frankly I find this story breath-taking in the way Jesus takes everyone by surprise. He is far more than an ‘outside the box thinker’, he is an ‘outside the box liver and carer’. He is not fearful of the power of the Pharisees and he doesn’t seem to be too shocked by the woman’s adultery either. He sees the woman not so much as a sinner, more as a sinned against. He utters three wisdom and compassion loaded statements:
‘Let anyone who is without sin…’
‘Neither do I condemn you’
‘Do not sin again’
The final one, lest we forget, takes us back to where we started. She was an adulterous woman; she was caught in the act. Jesus wants her to start again and to sin no more. This story has gone down as one of the great short stories of world literature.
Wisdom and perception
Compassion and understanding
Fearlessness and truth
Softness and strength
Freedom and forgiveness
No wonder I came searching for Jesus all those years ago. No wonder I made myself follow him. No wonder I am trying today to be like him. Where else could I find someone like him?
Where have you got to in your search for the deep reality of Jesus?
Who am I judging today?
Who am I pointing fingers at?
Who am I looking down on?
May you touch my heart,
With empathy, understanding, and sensitivity.