Today’s Gospel reading opens with Jesus heading to the Mount of Olives to rest for the night while his accusers head home (v. 1). As Scripture tells us, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). As we read in the last chapter (John 7:37), the day before was the last day – the great day – of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, and so today the Temple would have been crowded with those who had come to hear a last sermon from Jesus before heading home. Thus, Jesus diligently returns to the Temple early in the morning to continue teaching and “all the people came to him” (v. 2).
The scribes and Pharisees, often clashed with Jesus as they saw Him as an usurper of authority, seeking to control or destroy the Law and the Prophets, and had sought to kill Him ever since He cured the man on the Sabbath (John 7:19-23). Foiled in their plan to arrest Him just the day before (John 7:44-49), they were eager to try again to ensnare Jesus. Not only would they not listen to Jesus’ teachings, but they also interrupted His teaching in a most dramatic way, bringing the adulterous woman before Jesus (v. 3) into the middle of the circle of those listening to Him.
“They said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and in the law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?’”
In doing this, they hoped find something to accuse Him with (v. 6). If Jesus upheld the Law, that would be inconsistent with the character of the Messiah sent to “bring the good news to the afflicted… proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord” (Luke 4:18) and Jesus’ own mission to “seek out and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
They instead expected Jesus to acquit the woman, which would be consistent with His ministry, thus colluding with her sin, going against the Law and contradicting Himself when he said:
“Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to complete them.”
Instead of replying immediately, Jesus “bent down and started writing on the ground” to give the Pharisees the opportunity to withdraw their accusations. However, as they persisted, He pronounced His judgement – “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Jesus neither acquits the woman of her guilt, nor encourages her accusers in their persecution. His reply instead reveals the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and ensnares them in the very trap they had laid.
The Law commands that both adulterous man and woman be put to death, likely by stoning (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22). As the adulterous woman was caught in the very act, the Pharisees would know who she committed adultery with, and their failure to bring forth the man for judgement reveals their hypocrisy and a double standard very much still in effect today. Their actions show that they are not interested in upholding the Law, but in trapping Jesus. Jesus in turn challenges them – since they were so bold as to accuse the woman, do they dare to be executioners of their own Law and the first to take away her life with their hands? This too is the Law, which we saw in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58):
“The witnesses’ hands must strike the first blow in putting the condemned to death, the rest of the people following. You must banish this evil from among you.”
Jesus very rightly points out the absurdity of the Pharisees’ zeal in accusing others, when they themselves are every bit as guilty as those accused, or perhaps even more so because of their persistence in persecution. When we have a great log in our eyes, how can we see clearly enough to take out the splinter in our brother’s (Luke 6:41-42)? What are the sins of others that you are quick to judge, but slow to realize in yourself? How have you condemned others for very things you do, failing to realize that we are all sinners, brothers and sisters on the same journey?
“(God) will bring to light everything that is hidden in darkness and reveal the designs of all hearts.”
(1 Corinthians 4:5)
Jesus’ words brought to light the Pharisees’ guilt, and they went away in shame, beginning with the eldest (v. 9). Do you have a tendency to run away in your guilt, instead of casting yourself at the feet of your savior Jesus, the only one who has the power to redeem you? We should care to save our souls, not our reputations. Should our sins be brought to light, it is preferable that they shame us, rather than condemn us.
“’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.’”
In joyful repentance,
Patrick and Faith
Questions for Reflection
What are the sins of others that you are quick to judge but slow to realize in yourself?
How have you condemned others for very things you do, failing to realize that we are all sinners, brothers and sisters on the same journey?
When we have a great log in our eyes, how can we see clearly enough to take out the splinter in our brother’s (Luke 6:41-42)?