What do we focus on in this familiar story?
What did Jesus focus on?
Most of us are familiar with the story of adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11.
Jesus was at the Temple. A crowd gathered before him, and he sat down and began to teach them.
Where else have we seen this?
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him and he began to teach them. (Matthew 5:1-2)
This time, religious leaders brought to a crowd a woman caught in the act of adultery. They did not bring the man, as required by law; only the woman, to humiliate her. Was this a set-up? Did they want to humiliate Jesus, too? They obviously wanted to test Jesus so they could accuse him of crimes against Mosaic Law Yet the Law called for stoning the woman and the man. They baited Jesus to see what he would do.
Even though this story was not included in original Greek manuscripts prior to the fifth century, we can still take wisdom from it. The question is, do we take from it the wisdom of Jesus, or do we make up our own doctrine?
Jesus did not respond to the men at first. The story tells us he bent down to write in the dirt. Why is this included when we don’t know what he wrote? Perhaps to remind those hearing the story that Jesus was not a simple carpenter: he was a learned, literate man who knew how to write. Perhaps to show the religious leaders standing before him he not only claimed to know the Law, but offered proof he could write it and transform it.
“Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
After saying this, Jesus again stooped to write in the dirt. Was he writing their sins?
One by one, the men dropped their stones and slipped away.
If we look at the Gospels, we find Jesus said these words many times before:
Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”
Matthew 7:3-5 “Why is it that you see the dust in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but you can’t see what is in your own eye? Don’t ignore the wooden plank in your eye, while you criticize the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eyelashes. That type of criticism and judgment is a sham! Remove the plank from your own eye, and then perhaps you will be able to see clearly how to help your brother flush out his sawdust.”
Luke 6:37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”
John 3:17 “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
Let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has not sinned. John 8:7
Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord,” she said.
Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go and sin no more.”
Now many will jump on the last part, and say, “There it is! Sin no more!”
That is a mistake. Just as it is a mistake to focus on “then perhaps you will be able to see clearly how to help your brother flush out his sawdust” in Matthew 7:3-5.
If you say to yourself, “Aha! Once I’ve dealt with my own sin, I can turn around and deal with the sin of others,” you miss the entire point of both conversations.
The emphasis is on your own sin. The significance is on the abstinence of judging. The message is about God’s mercy. There is no “and.”
Read the story again. Do not sacrifice your relationships by pointing out sin. Employ God’s love and mercy.
“I am not here to attend to people who are already right with God; I am here to attend to sinners. In the book of the prophet Hosea, we read, ‘It is not sacrifice I want, but mercy.’ Go and meditate on that for a while—maybe you’ll come to understand it.” (Matthew 9:13)