The next day Jesus woke up early from His night up on the Mount of Olives. He decided to go down to the Temple. When He arrived, the people began to swarm around Him, so He sat down and began to teach those who were there. The religious leaders and Pharisees lead in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and stood her before Jesus.
John 8:3-6 MSG
“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.”
First of all, this had to be a set up from the beginning. The religious leaders and Pharisees are out to get Jesus. They are trying their best to catch Him in controversial comment or teaching. In their attempt to catch Him off guard they failed to consider the entirety of the law. Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 clearly speaks to both parties who are caught in the act of adultery, the woman and the man. She obviously could not commit adultery alone, so where was the man? She was supposedly caught red-handed, which means she had to be with someone in order to be caught at all. Yet, she stood alone in front of Jesus. There should also be two or three witnesses, yet no witnesses are submitted along with the accused. They were definitely trying to trick Jesus into making a poor decision.
John 8:6-8 MSG
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.”
Just as we should do, Jesus stops to think before He speaks. He takes a moment, maybe more, as His finger slides through the sand. By bringing her before Him, asking for His opinion and His judgement, they have clearly recognized His authority. Yet, in doing so, they hoped that He would make Himself look poorly in the crowd’s eyes as they picked apart His decision. The Scriptures say that He wrote with His finger. What, pray tell, did He write in the sand in those moments? We will never know the answer to that question on this side of heaven, but it’s clear that He is creating tension in those looking towards Him for His answer. His accusers are getting aggravated as they begin to badger Him for His response to their accusations against this woman. Jesus isn’t fazed by their accusations or by their insistent questions and badgering. Hounding Him didn’t seem to bother him in the least. When He stands upright, His response is distinct and unexpected to those listening. “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” His answer says it all. It is so simple and yet extremely rational and very deep, all at the same time. If you consider yourself free from sin, from bad choices, from ever making a mistake; go ahead and throw a stone. He then resumed His squatting position and writes once more in the sand. His position takes His eyes, and His focus, away from the crowd, His accusers and even the woman standing before Him. There she stands, waiting. Certain that death is about to befall her.
In my mind, I see stones falling to the ground, one by one, as their hands open and fingers drop their burdens to the ground. Each of the accusers is struck silent with the decision that Jesus has pronounced. The crowd opens a path, as each one slowly disappears into the background. Jesus lifts His head and looks directly into the woman’s eyes as He speaks. ‘Dear woman, where is everyone? Are we alone? Did no one step forward to condemn you?’ Her response is telling as she addresses Him.
John 8:11 MSG
“No one, Master.” “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
Neither do I. All I ask is that you go and do better. The Voice uses the words ‘all I ask is that you go and from now on avoid the sins that plague you.’ Avoid situations that place you in jeopardy of making such a bad choice again. That is Mercy. Mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve, yet is freely given. Mercy is what Jesus offered this woman, along with her accusers, that day. They may not have realized the impact on that day, yet it was powerful then and remains powerful today.
Mercy freed her, and Grace set her upright again. Grace followed right behind Mercy. Mercy enabled her to remain standing and Grace walked away with her that day. Mercy and Grace flows only because of Jesus. Mercy and Grace flowed from His judgement, was filled by His love and covered by His sacrifice. Mercy and Grace are extraordinary gifts Jesus that offers each of us.