…The scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Christ is essentially given two options by the Pharisees when they bring this woman before him: demonstrate mercy to the accused which would require breaking the law of Moses or execute judgement which would have him usurp the authority of the Romans, placing him in defiance of the ruling law. Christ makes a third choice.
I’ve often wondered what was going through the mind of the Lord as he wrote upon the ground ignoring the mob all around him. Formulating this third response, possibly? I think it is more likely he was grappling with the sorrow that this scene must have caused him. Here were His children using one person’s sin as a trap to bring him harm. The Pharisees, the woman, the crowd and Christ were all set to lose something in this encounter. Then Christ does something miraculous. He takes a hopeless, miserable situation and everyone walks away a winner.
This narrative teaches many things but in my mind none more powerful than the truth that there is always another way. No matter how bleak the situation, how angry the jostling mob, how heavy the weight of your own guilt God can calm the storm or the mob or your troubled heart. He can turn what seems to be the end of all things into a glorious new beginning.
Place yourself in the shoes of the woman in this story. Either her or her consort or both have made sacred covenants of fidelity that they have chosen to break. We don’t know the backstory of course but we can imagine all the little decisions all the big and small justifications all the unfortunate and selfish and sad circumstances that have led to this fateful day. It may be that the very moment before the mob took her she felt safe for the first time or maybe she was relishing in some vengeance against her partner’s wife. It could be that in the moments before she was taken she was simply enjoying the excitement of this stolen encounter. There are a hundred possibilities but in the moment she was taken none of them mattered.
Then, abused at the hands of an angry mob she is placed before the feet of a strange man who is charged to decide her fate. And it seems he must choose between her life and his or at least his reputation. Words are exchanged and the crowd suddenly dissipates. There in what is surely her bleakest hour she hears the Lord speak: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Where moments before there was the final words of the executioner there is suddenly the breath of life.
I want to believe that when she left the Lord she did as He commanded. Would I?