“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. 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, so what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’” John 8:1-11
This passage is absent from many ancient codexes (see RSV note r) but the Church holds it to be inspired and canonical. It may be that some people of a very strict frame of mind thought that because it showed Jesus to be so merciful, it might lead to a relaxation of moral standards. In any event, the episode demonstrates how Jesus sees his role as Judge (see 8:15): he is the Just One, but he does not condemn; whereas these critics, even though they are sinners, want to apply the death penalty. “But it should also be pointed out that are should never act in such a way in view of God’s mercy, that we forget about his justice; nor should we attend to his justice forgetting about his mercy; for hope should have in it an element of fear, and fear an element of hope” (Fray Luis de Granada, Life of Jesus, 13).
Jesus’ reply (v. 7) refers to the way stoning was carried out: those who witnessed the crime cast the first stones, and then others joined in, combining forces to blot out the slur on the people that the sin implied (cf. Deut 17:7). The question put to Jesus is couched in legal terms; he raises it to the moral sphere (the basis and justification of all laws), appealing to the consciences of those present. He does not violate the Law, Saint Augustine notes, nor at the same time does he want to lose sight of the true object that he has in mind – for he has come to save that which was lots: “His answer is so full of justice, gentleness and truth. […] O true answer to Wisdom. You have heard: Keep the Law, let the woman be stoned. But how can sinners keep the Law and punish this woman? Let each of them look inside himself and enter the tribunal of his heart and conscience; there he will discover that he is a sinner. Let this woman be punished, but not by sinners; let the Law be applied, but not by its transgressors” (Saint Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium, 33, 5).