Scripture Reading: John 8:1-11
1 And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, 4 they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.
7 They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” 8 Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9 Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
11 She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
In, Out, Up, Down
There are two vectors of physical motion in this passage: in and out; up and down. People come in together to gather around Jesus. The legal experts and Pharisees come in to the circle and place a woman in the center of the group. One by one the elders exit out leaving Jesus and the woman in the middle of the crowd. Jesus sat down and taught them. Jesus in response to the religious leaders’ question bends down and doodles on the ground. More interrogation from the Pharisess until Jesus stands up and responds to the continued questioning. Once again, Jesus bends down to write on the ground. Jesus stood up to speak words of life to the woman.
Jesus, in his embodied expression of both authority and humility, flips the script on the religious/social norms of what is in and out. The leaders literally bring the woman into the middle of the discourse, using her as an object lesson. They use her as a prop for their theological/doctrinal arguments, thereby denying her dignity and humanity.
A thousand dollars to be an ant on the sands witnessing what Jesus doodled on the ground. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what sand-art he was creating so much as what he was conveying (some form of resistance and protest) by refusing to even dignify their questions with a response.
In any event, Jesus finally responds by turning the lesson on the lesson-givers. He makes the scrutinizers the object of scrutiny. The religious elite leave speechless. The elders apparently possess much more restraint (wisdom and maturity?) than the younger experts. In the Kingdom of God, orientation is turned on its side. Up means out and down means in. Another way to look at this is to say that Christ is the center of a center-set, relational community. What makes one “in” is her humility and desire to engage on a real whole-hearted and human level with the Lord and Savior. The good news in this story is that Jesus looks the woman in the eye, speaks directly and intimately with her, champions and advocates for her, and speaks life and truth into her journey without condemning her. In an improvisational act not driven by law, tradition, rules, and norms, Jesus chooses to restore the woman ‘caught in adultery’ to new life.