The Woman Caught in Adultery - Naked and Condemned
Sharon W. Betters
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt (John 8:7, 8 MSG).
Imagine it’s Sunday morning and just as the pastor stands up to preach, a group of church leaders drags a naked woman into the front of the church and claims the pastor needs to judge and punish her for her immoral behavior.
I can’t think of many scenarios more shocking, but this is what happened early one morning as Jesus taught many people in the temple. This peaceful moment where people eagerly listened to the Rabbi, was about to turn into chaos. The religious leaders, all men, dragged a screaming, terrified woman into the center of the people and haughtily claimed she had been caught in adultery. Imagine her shame and humiliation, facedown, afraid to see the faces in the crowd looking at her with disdain. They apparently had pulled her from the bed of her lover, so I wonder if they allowed her to grab a blanket to cover her nakedness. Once more, we see the inequality of women in this culture. Where was the man?
I think the Scribes and Pharisees who dragged her to the synagogue must have stayed up all night, plotting ways to bring down Jesus. This time they were confident their scheme would work:
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:4).
Their words drip venom, derisively calling Jesus “Teacher”, a title deserving respect when they no more saw Him as a qualified teacher than a dog in the street. If they were men of conviction, they would not have brought this adulterous woman to a man who was neither a witness to her sin nor qualified to judge. No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites! How often do we, too, take on the role of judge and jury?
But also consider, they caught her in the act. This means they saw her committing adultery. How? Where was the man – wasn’t he, too, guilty and deserving of stoning? Or was her partner one of them? Did they set this trap for her, too? They were not above using a woman to destroy Jesus.
In their minds, Jesus had only two options. Agree with the law of Moses that required stoning for the sin of adultery and sentenced her to public stoning. But if He landed on this option, He would be violating Roman law that did not allow the death penalty only for religious reasons. However, if he disapproved of stoning her, He risked his credibility as a teacher of the law of Moses which required stoning thus undermining His claim to be the Messiah prophesied by Moses and the prophets.
Surely, this time Jesus would not slip out of this trap:
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him (John 8:6).
Imagine the pressure on Jesus to respond quickly, the watching crowd of followers, the gloating Scribes and Pharisees, and the terrified woman. It’s intriguing to me that Jesus doesn’t respond immediately. In fact, it seems He ignores them because they continued to ask Him for judgment (John 8:7a).
Watch their glee turn to confusion when Jesus bends down and writes with his finger on the ground. It was not unusual for a teacher to write in the dirt but Jesus was about to use their own trap to expose their sin.
Like children having a temper tantrum they hammer Jesus as He silently writes:
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt (John 8:7-8, MSG).
We can only conjecture, but many scholars suggest that as the crowd watched, Jesus wrote the names of those present, along with their specific sins. Whatever He wrote, a tangible silence filled the room. Did Jesus expose them as they exposed this adulterous woman?
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones… (John 8:9).
Not one person threw a stone. As they began to leave, He bent down again and continued writing, perhaps the names of those still standing in the crowd, hands filled with rocks, whose hearts judged this woman with no thought for their own sin.
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry said, “Those who are indulgent to their own sin, are severe against the sins of others”. This story and these words, stop me in my tracks. When I am quick to judge another’s sins, the Lord reminds me to ask why I am so hardened by them. Do I spot sin in others because I am so familiar with my own sin?
Whatever Jesus wrote, the words pierced not only the hearts of the accusers but every person in the crowd. The older, respected leaders left first, followed by every other person. Not one person hung around to accuse or gloat and now this woman stands before Jesus, sin exposed:
Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him (John 8:9).
Imagine you stand before Jesus, exposed, caught, knowing you are guilty of breaking God’s law and at the mercy of His judgment. I’m seventy-two years old and in what some call the twilight of life. A few years ago, I began to take stock of my life, asking the Lord to reveal places I allowed sin to reside. In His gentle and gracious way, Jesus took me back to those times when I looked like a good Christian girl to others, but my heart was dark. He reminded me of how I rationalized that my sin was not as great as others, and “after all, it’s not that big of a sin”. My heart broke and I asked Jesus to forgive me and show me if I needed to make amends with anyone. In the midst of tearful repentance, I remembered that Jesus had already fully forgiven me. But more tears fell when I realized that though I intentionally sinned, God loved me still. He didn’t close doors of ministry or shut me out. He accepted me unconditionally. He blessed me despite my sinfulness because when He saw me, He saw the blood of Jesus wiping out my sin. Dear sisters, there is such freedom in knowing this kind of forgiveness and love.
Oh, Father, we come to You with hands and hearts open, remembering Jesus willingly traveled to the Cross for our sins. May we never take for granted that You so loved us, that You gave Your only begotten Son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sharon W. Betters is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, pastor’s wife, and cofounder of MARKINC Ministries, where she is the Director of Resource Development. Sharon is the author of several books, including Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness, and co-author with Susan Hunt of Aging with Grace. She is the co-host of the Help & Hope podcast and writes Daily Treasure, an online devotional.
For more from Daily Treasure please visit MARKINC.ORG.