First, An Important Note: This section is not included in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of this Gospel, and thus is often not covered by commentators in their works. The reasons for this are several, and although we will not take the time to analyze them, the truth is that this probably doesn’t belong in John. However, it does appear to be consistent with Jesus’ ministry with parallels in the Synoptics and thus it would seem to be “authentic Jesus”. It is certainly instructive for our purposes in wishing to know Him better and to understand His teachings. Clearly it was highly enough regarded to have been preserved by the early church as authentic Jesus.
One day, Jesus was in the vicinity of the Temple, prepared to teach. There was a crowd of people there who were ready to hear Him, so He sat down and prepared to speak, when suddenly a bunch of teachers of the law and Pharisees burst in dragging along a woman. “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?” (vv. 4-5)
A witness to this event who was sharp might quickly wonder about this surprising turn of events. Since these men mentioned the Law of Moses, and they are the authorities in such cases, why would they bring her to this “teacher” whom they despise to render sentence upon this woman? Hold on, the Law prescribes procedures for the determination for guilt: Who saw her commit this act? Were these high and mighty leaders of the people sneaking around and peering in through her windows? How do we know she’s married; who is her husband? Oh, and while we’re at it, who is the witness to her supposed acts? Oh yes, and one other thing, the Law requires that her partner in crime be executed too; who is he and why haven’t they brought him along for judgment as well?
Jesus, now the judge, didn’t ask these questions, instead He bent down and wrote something in the dirt; He doesn’t seem all that concerned, but to our sharp observer of these events, it seems that there might be more afoot than an adultery case… but what?
Then Jesus renders a sentence of sorts, when He stops writing, stands up and says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Silence fell upon the scene; Jesus bent down again and resumed writing in the dirt with his finger.
People began to leave, slowly at first, beginning with the older ones until Jesus was left alone with the woman.
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” (vv. 10-11).
Oh wait, I forget to mention something from the text:
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him (v. 6).
Those men didn’t care about the woman; they were trying to attack Jesus.
By the standard He set, Jesus was the only one qualified to cast a stone, but He lets the woman go. He does not send her off to continue her sinful ways, but rather He admonishes her to sin no more. What we see here is Jesus forgiving the woman for what she had done and calling her to repentance, which is also what He has done for us.
People are frequently quick to condemn others, but who among us is without sin? Can we look around and condemn our brother when we too are sinners? Condemnation is God’s job; our job is to forgive and to encourage and correct with “patient endurance,” not to condemn. Second, as sinners, we too deserve to die but God has forgiven us through Christ. You and I are commanded to repent of our old ways and walk in newness of life with Christ… and yet we still stumble and need forgiveness again. With that being the case, we are hardly qualified to cast stones at others. Forgiveness and repentance are key qualities in Christ’s teaching for our behavior in life, and are key qualities that some seem to lack entirely.