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I recently heard a sermon wherein the pastor stated that John 8 makes it clear Jesus did not engage in political issues. He went on to present a story of how Jesus was minding his own business when the Pharisees confronted him regarding a woman caught in adultery. His point was that otherwise, Jesus intentionally avoided conflict—and so should we. This pastor went on to explain that when confronted by the political leaders, Jesus chose to stay silent rather than speaking up on behalf of the woman.
His summary of the story focused on Jesus’s interactions with the woman and the compassion he showed her. However, as I opened my Bible and read the whole story in context, I noticed a few additional important details. John 8:3-11 says:
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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)
Reading this story in context from start to finish reveals a different picture than the one the pastor presented in his sermon. It’s true that, at first, when the Pharisees asked Jesus for his opinion, he didn’t respond right away. He left space for the men to continue to justify their actions. However, Jesus didn’t walk away from the situation. Bending down and writing in the dirt is non-confrontational, but his presence is important. Jesus could have walked away and left the Pharisees to stone the woman as was permitted by law.
However, Jesus’s presence drew attention away from the woman. He protected her from the Pharisees by calling the attention to himself.
As the questions continued, Jesus spoke up. He wasn’t silent! He directly responded to the questions and told the Pharisees whoever among them was sinless should go ahead and start stoning the woman.
Jesus took the time to hold everyone in the community accountable.
Jesus didn’t defend the adulterous woman. However, he took the opportunity to remind the Pharisees that they were also sinners, just like the woman they were publicly shaming.
(As a side note, the man she was caught with didn’t seem to be around, and as we all know, it takes two to tango.)
Finally, after everyone else left, Jesus spoke directly to the woman. At this point, he also took the opportunity to address her sin. I believe Jesus spoke with kindness and compassion as he addressed this woman, who was likely battling a mixture of emotions ranging from shame to fear. Jesus didn’t let the woman caught in adultery off the hook. He absolved the women of her sin; however, he also said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The conversations Jesus had with the Pharisees and the woman aren’t that different from conversations many Christians have with people in their personal communities every day. While it’s unlikely for Christians to stone someone for their sin, people tend to want to hold people accountable for their poor choices without pausing to take time for internal reflection about their own sin state. Continue reading here…