So Jesus is teaching in the Temple area. Then a crowd of scribes and Pharisees arrives with a woman caught in the very act of adultery. They demand to know what Jesus says about this case. Will he side with the Law of Moses and thereby incur the wrath of the occupying Romans who reserved the death penalty to themselves, or will Jesus obey the Roman occupiers and sell out the Law of God? Pretty dramatic.
Well first of all we can tell right off that the crowd of Pharisees and scribes is NOT primarily concerned with justice nor with God’s law. There are two obvious indications of this. First, they bring only the woman. Even in Jesus’ day the crime of adultery required two conspirators. The woman did not commit this crime alone. So where is the guy?
The Jewish law, both in the Book of Leviticus chapter 20 verse10 and in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 22 verse 22 ascribes the death penalty for BOTH parties. Deuteronomy states: “ Thus shall you purge the evil from Israel.” The Law calls for evenhanded justice. However, the crowd before Jesus seem interested only in the woman.
Even more telling is that they drag this woman to Jesus. They did not take her to the authorities, to the priests or the judges for proper judgment, but to Jesus. Jesus is not a civil official. He has no civic rank or public office. He is not a judge or magistrate. But they come to Jesus because they not only want to embarrass and degrade the woman (they “made her stand in the middle”) but they also want to trap and embarrass Jesus as well. Jesus, that bleeding heart liberal who is always welcoming sinners and eating with them.
What is going on here? Well, in as much as the crime of rape is more about violence and humiliation than it is about sex, this mob is, in effect, a gang rape. That is why the guilty male is not of interest to this group. And to make their crime complete they want to humiliate Jesus as well. It is all about building up their own sense of power by humiliating and violating others. They are bullies.
But Jesus is difficult to trap. Jesus does not buy into their twisted logic, driven by their twisted hearts and desires. He pulls back from the whole twisted scene. Instead He bent down and began to doodle, sketching in the dust.
Have you ever been in a long, boring class, where the teacher drones on and on and on? And so you begin to draw little figures and maps and designs in the margins of your notebook? That is what Jesus does. He doodles. He is pulling himself mentally and emotionally out of the exchange with the Pharisees and instead is killing time. He refuses to be caught in the mentality of the mob.
Impatient, the scribes and Pharisees press Jesus for an answer. “He straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
I don’t think Jesus is talking about their past. I don’t think Jesus was writing their sins in the dust. I think Jesus talking about right here and now. In effect Jesus is saying, “if your motives in wanting to stone this woman are pure, if your concern really is the holiness of God, if you are motivated by a sincere and holy concern for God’s law, if what you are about is pure in the eyes of God, then throw a stone.
But if you are now motivated by a desire to hurt, to dominate, to show your power over a helpless person, to push your sufferings and your sexual urges on to another, to unleash the beasts of lust and domination that rage in your own hearts onto a helpless scapegoat, then this is sin. Sin. It is NOT the Will of God.
Jesus forces them to confront the evil of their own motivations.
The passions of the elders cool first, and as they come to their senses, as they realize what they really are involved in, they drop their stones and slink away, one by one.
Finally Jesus is left alone with the woman. Jesus condemns the sin, but not the woman. “Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
The lesson for us, I think, is to examine our motivations whenever we condemn or blame another. Are we truly interested in Justice? In God’s law? In respect for God’s Will? Or are we – subtly or not so subtly - exulting in our own power, our own purity, our own rectitude? Are we pushing our darkness and sin on to another?
This past week on March 9, in our name, the State of Texas executed Coy Wesbrook for the murders of his ex-wife, Gloria Coons, and Antonio Cruz in 1997.
On March 22 our State of Texas is scheduled to execute for killing Commerce Code Enforcement Officer Michael “Pee Wee” Walker in 2005.
On March 30, we, through the State of Texas are scheduled to execute for the 2001 murders of his two daughters, Faith and Liberty, ages 9 and 6.
And at this time, there are seven additional executions to take place in Texas through July of this year. They are all taking place on our behalf.
All of these crimes are truly heinous and cry out to heaven. But what is our motivation in executing these criminals? Are we truly without sin? Are we really concerned with Justice and upholding God’s way? If that is completely true then why are the great majority of those executed poor, minorities, poorly educated?
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
Jesus does not condemn us. We should be likewise reluctant to condemn.