53Then each of them went home, 1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.10Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
[Where's Luke? As you know, I've been following the daily lectionary reading put out by the PCUSA. The lectionary reading of the Gospels has been following Luke. For some unknown reason, we get a passage from the Gospel of John. It's probably an error from someone in charge of the lectionary website. No big deal.]
What's interesting about the above passage is that the passage was most likely not in the original Gospel of John manuscript. If you have your Bibles, you might see either double brackets around this passage or the passage itself might be italicized or in a different font. Because the story is so well-known and beloved most Bible editorial committees continue to include this passage in the Gospel of John even though the most ancient manuscripts lack this passage.
But please do not be alarmed. Even if the passage was not in the original, it's inclusion does not change anything of substance about Jesus and his ministry. Possibly this story was kept alive in oral tradition, which somehow got included in one or several manuscripts as an addendum.
When textual critics (Biblical scholars who specialize in textual/manuscript analysis) work to determine the most likely content of the "original," they of course favor the older manuscripts. It stands to reason that older is better. (At least in the world of texts, old is better than young, for younger texts base themselves on older texts.) As it is, the oldest texts of the Gospel of John do not contain the above passage.
Had the story of the woman caught in adultery been out of sync with the rest of the stories of Jesus, then this particular story would not have seen the light of day. The story actually conforms to how Jesus is depicted elsewhere and the various points or emphases of the story are also in keeping with Jesus' teaching.
So, what are we to make of this story? We know that the religious leaders of Jesus' day distinguished people according to "sinful" and "holy." The ones in the latter category were people more or less like themselves -- people who had a religious education, who were self-consciously religious, people who were esteemed for their religious vocation, and so on. The ones in the former category were people who lived obviously sinful lives -- prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, adulterers, and murderers. The distinction between the two groups was not that hard to figure out. Everyone in town knew the difference. Anyone in town could point out who's who.
Therefore when the woman was caught in an adulterous act, it was clear to all that she was a blatant sinner. What was the punishment for such a sin? Death by stoning. Legally true. Officially correct. Technically right. The leaders ask Jesus what they should do to this adulterer, testing to see how Jesus would respond.
Jesus could have said something to the effect, What does the Law of Moses say? But he doesn't. Jesus knows that the distinction between "sinful" and "holy" in the minds of the religious leaders is a bogus distinction. In the eyes of God, we are all sinful. We are all deserving of judgment. We are all dependent on God's grace and mercy. The outward difference of behavior and lifestyle cannot change the inner commonality of all human beings -- that we are all sinful and in need of God's forgiveness.
And that's what, in essence, is what this scene is all about. No one can throw that first stone because no one is without sin. We cannot stand in judgment of one another without implicating ourselves in the process. We all need forgiveness. And this forgiveness comes from God in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we thank you for the mercy and compassionate that you have for fallen humanity. We count ourselves grateful sinners who have been forgiven of our sins. More than that, we count ourselves friends whose sins no longer become a barrier to knowing you. For this day, we pray that your love and mercy will sustain and encourage us. May the Spirit in us remind us of your merciful love. In Your Name, Amen.