“Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more, (John 8:11).
It’s early morning and Jesus is in the Temple courtyard teaching, as he has been for the entire preceding week. The Feast of Tabernacles has just ended and Jerusalem is still filled with Jewish pilgrims from around the Roman Empire. Some of the religious leaders have spent the week unsuccessfully attempting to find a reason to arrest Jesus as a false prophet. They want him dead!
As Jesus is teaching, a group of these Pharisees, priests, and scribes bust through the crowd. Two of them are dragging a woman and she is not in great shape. I can imagine her hair in tangles, bruises on her face, and whatever clothing she has on in shreds. As they reach Jesus they throw the woman on the ground in front of him.
In context, there is little doubt that this is a set-up. The woman is collateral damage. She is guilty of adultery. They caught her in the act. In all probability, they orchestrated the act. According to Jewish law, she should be stoned to death. The question is posed to Jesus, “What say you?” If he says, “Stone her,” he loses his reputation as a friend of sinners and a man of great compassion. If he says, “Let her go,” he becomes guilty of advocating breaking the Law. They think they have set the perfect trap.
Jesus bends down from his sitting position and writes in the dirt. We have no idea what he wrote. Some late New Testament manuscripts indicate he was writing the accuser’s sins in plain sight. He might have just been doodling…pondering his response. He looks up. His eyes stare into the eyes of the religious leaders. He speaks: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus bends back down and writes again. One-by-one, the accusers leave. The trap has failed.
Jesus straightens up and looks into the eyes of the woman. “Woman…where are they? Has no one condemned you?” he asks with feigned surprise. The woman replies, “No one, sir.” With loving compassion, yet firm directive, Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more.”
Most biblical scholars will point out that this story is not contained in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John we possess. Although many do not doubt that the incident might have happened, they don’t believe it was part of the original document. But St. Augustine had an interesting take. He believed that the story was in the original text, but was taken out! His reasoning was that some of the leaders of the early church feared that the story would encourage people to loose living. Too much grace! It is a fascinating theory, which if nothing else, shows how loving, gracious, and compassionate Jesus was and is. His grace is so great; we can barely comprehend it. In less than a year from this incident, he will hang on a cross and pay the price for the woman’s adultery…and the Pharisee’s hypocrisy…and my sin…and yours!