An unexpected answer

John’s gospel is unique, revealing personal stories of mercy, repentance, and redemption that the synoptic gospels do not report. John 8.1-11 is such a story.

It was early in the morning, and already Jesus drew a crowd. He began that day’s lesson innocently enough, perhaps just a random Tuesday or Thursday, another day to feed the righteous hunger of many who followed Him. But thundering footsteps interrupted – the approach of scribes and Pharisees, bent not on learning from the Master, but on trapping Him some how, discrediting Him, ultimately destroying Him.

They dragged with them a half-dressed young woman, caught in the very act of adultery. There is no question of her guilt, though interestingly her partner in sin somehow escaped this gritty little scene.

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say?” – vs.4-5

Yes, the scribes and Pharisees demanded an answer – the sightless and heartless representatives of the religion of the day. They were empty redeemers, with no concern about this woman’s sin, her life, her soul. Their concern was trapping Jesus, and so in holy presumption they tested the Master, confident that any answer would either violate the Law, or show Jesus to be as heartless and uncaring as they. One wonders where they cooked up their schemes.

Jesus stooped, and wrote in the dirt as the howling mob waited impatiently. Perhaps He was thinking of this woman, how her life had gone veering out of control. Perhaps He knew of her circumstances – He surely knew something of her heart. It is like the heart of every human, aware of failure, despairing of lost opportunity, pondering where things went so terribly wrong. We have all been there.

The leaders were insistent. The Savior decided it was time to stop this nonsense: “I guess if you’ve never made a mistake, then you have the right to stone this woman,” He said.

Silence. Thundering silence. A few feet started to shuffle. Perhaps someone cleared his throat to respond, then thought better of it. More silence.

Finally, a few feet retreated. Then a few more. Within a few moments the crowd dispersed without a word. No one was left but the woman, and Jesus. He looked up at the woman, “Is there no one to condemn you?” I’m not sure what this woman expected Jesus to say at this moment. But I’m fairly confident she did not expect this! Perhaps she braced for a scolding, or maybe expected Jesus to simply walk away. Instead, she got a heavy dose of grace, and instruction: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

This woman, who scripture does not name, never again appears on the stage of human history. We know nothing else about her for certain, though some surmise she may have been Mary Magdalene. Another human being, caught in a moment of ignominy, appearing in history alongside the human incarnation of God. She joins a cast of memorable characters who reveal important attributes of our Savior. Perhaps she was later at the cross, staring up at the crucified Jesus, wondering, “Is this the same man?” And then hearing the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) – she realizes it is the same Jesus who saved her that day in the street. And looking into His eyes she saw the same love, the same tenderness, the same despair for humankind that she witnessed personally.

This woman experienced in a few days what it takes us years to realize. She knew on that fateful day when she chose to sin with a man not her husband, that she deserved to die. She did not go willingly to the Savior, but once in His presence, she got a very unexpected answer: grace and instruction.

How do you come to Jesus today? Are you deserving of death? The Savior already knows everything about you, nothing can be hidden. And so you wait for an answer from Him. Will you get what you deserve? Or will you choose grace and instruction?

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

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