Rerunning some of my favorites this August:
I grew up on cop and courtroom shows. I loved the drama of catching the bad guy or seeing a lawyer convince the jury, in commanding tones of injured justice, that the defendant was innocent. I planned to become a lawyer up until my last two years of college.
Having worked in a law office and served on a jury, I’m now aware that television doesn’t portray a courtroom exactly . . . accurately. There’s a lot less drama and a lot more drudgery. We don’t show justice quite as it happens. (But if you want to see a humorous video of all our favorite dramatizations, click here.)
This is nothing new. Courtroom scenes have always been played in different ways, sometimes in ways far from just.
Today’s story — and the question God asks—isn’t just a story about one person, or one trial. And it is so relevant to today’s world.
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. (John 8.1-6)
So here’s the setting. A crowd. Jesus teaching. And what happens? This group of men interrupt the teaching (rude) to deposit a woman, most likely with little clothing, in the middle of the crowd. It’s wrong on so many levels.
Most Embarrassing Moment
Have you ever been embarrassed in front of a group? I remember one particular 10th grade spelling bee. At some point, I looked across the room at my crush. And he was looking at me. I looked back. I flirted a little. I smiled, made eyes, and was generally overjoyed that he was looking right at me.
Until I realized that everyone was looking right at me. Because it was my turn. And the entire classroom had seen my awkward tenth-grade attempts at flirting.
I have no idea if I spelled the word correctly.
This woman is completely vulnerable, at risk, and humiliated. They’ve made sure of it.
The wording says they “put” her in front of the crowds. Like she is a stray fork or a plate of bad cafeteria food they can toss wherever they like. She is, in fact, their tool for entrapping Jesus. Little more.
She has no agency at all in this matter.
In a trial that should have been private and should, by law, have involved the guilty man as well, the men decide to make her shame public instead, because she fits their agenda.
Does this all sound vaguely familiar?
It’s the way women have always been treated. And Jesus isn’t having it.
Keeping the Law?
For men so intent on keeping the law, they break several.
1 —They could and should have brought her privately if they wanted a court judgement. They brought her in public, to shame her and challenge Jesus. They wanted a dramatic lynching, and they wanted him holding the noose. It’s not about justice, and it’s not about her. She’s collateral damage.
2—They could and should have brought both guilty parties. Except a man would have demanded his rights. He would not have been as vulnerable. She had no rights. She was an easy target. People who want power choose easy, vulnerable, targets with no ability to make their own case.
3—They could and should have brought the required two witnesses forward immediately. Except, well, for two people to actually witness adultery? They had to see it at the same time and place and have the same story. In other words, they had to have set her up. No one accidentally witnesses adultery, certainly not two people. Yet these witnesses don’t materialize.
4—They could and should have tried to stop the sinner out of compassion. That was the law. Obviously, no one did. They watched and waited.
That’s just a start at the injustice of it all.
Grace or Law?
It was a test of grace or law. Would Jesus lean too far toward grace—let her go— and break the law? Or would he lean too far toward law —agree to stone her—and invalidate all he’d taught?
Either way, the leaders are back in power. That’s the point.
They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. (John 8.7-9)
They kept demanding an answer. They are impatient, wanting condemnation on their terms, their timeline.
Jesus gives his answer. Fine. Toss a stone. Throw it. Hard.
But only according to the law that you so carefully keep—the two witnesses have to go first. The crowd would know that was the law. The accusers would, too.
He demands that her accusers be the first to begin taking a life. If your testimony is absolutely truthful, he hints, this should not be hard. If you haven’t misrepresented anything, exaggerated, told one white lie—you’re good. Go ahead. Throw a rock.
And no one does.
Jesus is keeping law for them, but enacting mercy for her all at once.
Never cross Jesus when death is on the line.
Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8.10-11)
Didn’t even one of them condemn you?
The truth here, in Jesus’ beautiful question?
No one has power to call you guilty except the Lord of grace and truth.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8.1-2)
Sometimes we are this woman.
In this life, People will shame you, hurt you when you’re vulnerable, treat you like an object to use, humiliate you, judge and condemn you. I know they have.
But they don’t have the power to make that call. Don’t let them have that power.
Has no one condemned you? No, Lord.
In calling Jesus Lord, she is transferring power. She is admitting him as her master. And she is transformed. Her accusers no longer have power over her. They can’t bring her shame, judgment, or hurt. Only he can. But he doesn’t.
Look into face of your Lord. Hear his words. “Neither do I condemn you.” Let them cover you with grace and truth.
Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8.33-34)
No one has power to call you guilty except the Lord of grace and truth.
There is more to this story. We’ll get into it next week. For today, though, remember, shame has no place in God’s kingdom. The answer to Jesus question is—no one. No one can condemn us. Only Him. And he doesn’t. Let it transform you in all those deep places of fear, humiliation, and shame.
She is free at the end of the story, in more ways than one. He offers the same thing to all of us.