One of my favorite stories about Jesus is from John 8. The first eleven verses in this chapter tell about how Jesus was in the Temple teaching (as he was wont to do) and the Pharisees show up with a woman they caught in adultery. They ask him what they should do with her, because the law said to stone her. Instead of speaking, Jesus writes something in the sand. When they keep pressing him for an answer, he tells them that anyone who hasn’t sinned, should start the stoning. He starts to write again. Eventually, everyone leaves, and Jesus is with the woman. He asks her where her accusers are, and she says that they have all gone, and that not one of them condemned her. Jesus says, “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Whenever I read a story like this, especially the famous ones that are plucked from the text, I always like to see what comes right before it, and right after, and the overall nature of the book that the verse is from. The authors of the Scripture chose what they said about Jesus very carefully because they were trying to create a themed narrative. That’s why none of the Gospels are exactly alike; Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke, all had different points they wanted to stress. Matthew seems very focused on proving how Jesus is the Messiah described in Old Testament texts. He keeps pulling prophecies out and then showing how Jesus matches up. Mark is kind of like the action movie of the Gospels and he tends to focus on suffering because his audience was dealing with brutal persecution from Rome. Luke is written by someone who never met Jesus, focuses on how Jesus meant to reach all people of the world, not just the Hebrews. John is apparently a bit different than the other three Gospels. He goes into more detail about certain events that happened in the other Gospels and is focused on the “signs” that Jesus is God. I also think it’s interesting that the “John” who probably wrote this Gospel is known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John was the youngest of the disciples.
Chapter 7 in John is all about belief and unbelief. John talks about how Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe He was God, how the Jewish leaders were asking people what they thought of Jesus (some said Jesus was a fraud, others said that Jesus was a good man), and people just generally being confused and talking about who this Jesus fellow really was (is He the Messiah? But the Messiah can’t come from Galilee, He’s supposed to be from Bethlehem). John mentions a couple of times that people wanted Jesus arrested, but no one did anything about it.
The verses right after the John 8 stoning story are also all about belief and who Jesus is. Jesus calls Himself “the Light of the World” and says “the truth will see you free.” Some famous words.
Chapter 9 focuses on one story – Jesus healing a blind man. In this story, Jesus and His disciples see a man who was born blind, and the disciples ask if this is because of the man’s sins, or his parents’. Jesus says, “Neither.” He then heals the man and tells him to go wash in a pool, whose name translates in English to “sent.” Everyone who knew this man before see him and are baffled because now he can see. He tells them about Jesus and they take him to talk to the Pharisees, because it was the Sabbath and you’re not supposed to heal on the Sabbath. ‘Cause that’s totally what was significant about the whole event. Anywho, the Pharisees are all puzzled and wanting to know who Jesus is and who the man thinks Jesus is. The man says that he thinks Jesus is a prophet. The Pharisees are not happy about this whole deal and basically say, “Don’t thank that guy Jesus for this, because He is a sinner. Thank God.” And the man says, “Well, I don’t know about that. All I know is that I once was blind and now I see!” Then he talks about how Jesus must be from God, because God only listens to those who do His will. The Pharisees get mad and kick him out. Jesus hears about this and finds the man he healed and asks him if he (the man) believes in the Son of Man (the Messiah). The man says he does, and Jesus says “You have seen him, you are speaking to him.” The former blind man believes in Jesus and worships him. Jesus says, “I came to give sight to the blind, and to show those who think they can see, that they are blind.” Some Pharisees are hanging around and ask him, “Are you saying we are blind?” Jesus’ response: “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty. But you remain guilty because you think you can see.”
I think it’s super interesting that the story of the adulterous woman is sandwiched between these two chapters. I think chapter 7 is all about the identity of Jesus and then chapter 8 is illustrating why He is the Messiah. And not only that, but He is not the kind of Messiah that people expected. He is there, at the Temple teaching. He is in a position of religious authority right now being in the Temple, where he showed up when he was 12 and started teaching with an insight that shocked the older leaders there. Now He is an adult and gaining the attention of Pharisees, who are not happy. This is when “the teachers of the law” and the Pharisees show up with a woman they caught in adultery. We do not know what she did specifically, it does not seem to be relevant. It also worth noting that there is no man present, according the law that the Pharisees soon reference, he should also be stoned. So there they are, and they ask Jesus what they should do. Note that they are not actually asking him because they take him seriously. They are trying to trap him. They are probably trying to get him to say, “Screw the law!” and then they can nab him for heresy and what not. Instead, Jesus starts writing something in the dirt. We never know what this is. I’m not sure if this is because no one remembered (which seems weird) or John didn’t see to think the content is what was important in this story. Whatever he was writing, it clearly bothered the Pharisees. They kept asking him what they should do, and he says that whoever has not sinned, should throw the first stone. Then he keeps writing.
Maybe He was making the point that if they stoned this woman, they would be saying that they were all deserving of being stoned. Regardless, this seems to shut them up, and they leave. Jesus is alone with the woman. Oh, wait, he totally isn’t, there is TOTALLY A CROWD there. Whenever I picture this story, I picture just Jesus and the woman, but there were witnesses to this, there was a crowd. That is significant. Jesus is making a public showing of this whole deal. The Pharisees wanted to make a spectacle of Jesus in the Temple, the place of religious authority, and Jesus turned their scheme on its head. Then Jesus, a man whom people are debating is the Messiah, says that He does not condemn the woman and she should go and sin no more.
There is a lot to unpack in this story, but I’m going to focus on what has been interesting to me lately. I’ve noticed that people like to divide up this story into two sides of Jesus; there’s the loving, non-condemning side, and then the one where He acknowledges that what she did is a sin, and that she should repent. People have justified a lot of behavior towards people they see as sinful by using this tail end of the verse. However, this is JESUS talking. Jesus is the one who lays down the law here. Not the Pharisees. Not the crowd. Not the disciples. Am I saying that Christians should not deal with the sin in peoples’ lives? No. What I am saying is that should not be the focus. Jesus’ command to the woman comes after Him SAVING HER LIFE, after overruling the punishment of an ancient law, after publicly saying that He does not condemn her. How many people who sputter “Go and sin no more” to the sinners in their lives have really done any of that? Have taken a stand with them, have driven away the perpetrators of harsh judgment and religious legalism, all in a place where others can see them and take heed? John includes chapters where people are just asking who Jesus is and then slams this story in here, saying, “THIS is who Jesus is.” The Pharisees claim to know what is right, claim to know how things should be done, claim to be able to SEE, and Jesus tells them, “No, you are blind. You don’t get it.”
They didn’t get that Jesus is Love. And Love saves your life before it even thinks about telling you to go sin no more. And at that point, Love is so strong in you and wraps you up so tight that there is nothing else you would rather do than listen to Love.