John 7:53 – 8:11: Three pointing back…

“53 Then they all went home, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’11 ‘No one, sir,’ she said.‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ NIV

The earliest and most reliable ancient manuscripts of the gospel of John do not contain John 7:53-8:11. But this beautiful story does not contradict any other part of the Bible, and it fits with the picture of the Jesus we know from elsewhere.

This short story points to:

  1. The centrality of Jesus (2). Jesus has ”appeared” to us. We can only see Him because He has revealed Himself to us. And our lives personally, and the church’s life collectively, centres ”round” Him. We revolve around Him. He has ultimately authority in our lives and we listen to and obey His teaching. He is the centre of our orbit.
  2. The hostility of the religious leaders (3-6). There is a challenge here about how we treat people – especially those we know to have done wrong. Many years ago, because of a mistake I made in a Physics exercise, a science teacher not only humiliated me in front of my own class, but also marched me down the corridor to where my maths teacher was working with a group. He proceeded to rant about my stupidity in front of her and her class. That day I felt deep shame. What was it like for this poor woman when ”They made her stand before the group…” ?And by the way, there was profound hypocrisy here, for if the woman was ”caught in the act of adultery” (4), where was the man? (See Leviticus 20:10).Presumably he had been let go? How do we treat people whose lives, we know, run contrary to the Word of God? Do we remember that they are still in the image of their Maker, even though it has been defaced? Do we treat them with dignity? Do we show a proper recognition of their worth and value? Do we remember our own faults? Bill Hybels says, ”You will never lock eyes with anyone who doesn’t matter to the Father.” You need to remember that when you point a finger at someone else, you have three others pointing back.
  3. The charity of Jesus (6b-11): No one knows exactly what Jesus was doing when He ”bent down” and wrote in the dust (6b, 8), but I find the suggestion attractive that He was listing the sins of these violently critical men. It seems they came under conviction of sin. None of them were without it (7). The older ones, who had the longest sinning experience, were the first to leave. Eventually, only two people were left – Jesus and the woman. Jesus was balanced in His approach. He didn’t compromise with evil, but neither did He condemn her. Rather, He called to repentance. Jesus shows mercy so that we may pursue a life of holiness. He does not expect us to continue to flirt with sin.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me in a way that is different to how anyone else would treat me. I deserve condemnation, but your grace has given me a fresh start and a second chance at life. Help me to never abuse your great kindness.