“The scribes and
Pharisees brought a woman along
who had been caught committing adultery; and making
her stand there in the middle they said to Jesus: Master,
this woman was caught in the very act of committing
adultery, and in the Law, Moses has ordered us
to stone women of this kind.
What have you got to say?”
What a fearful statement. The scribes and Pharisees make such a fearful claim when they say, Moses ordered us to stone women “of this kind.” The implication is that the Law, from God, commands us to kill her. What other choice do we have? It’s God’s law!
But then, as if to trick Jesus, they ask: What do you think?
There are a few things here I would like to think about. First, that word “ordered.” Did God actually “order” His people to kill anyone guilty of adultery? In Leviticus (20:10) and Deuteronomy (22: 23-34) the punishment for adultery is prescribed as death (for both man and woman). And the idea behind it is that it is a grave sin and must be driven out of the community. So, in a sense the scribes and Pharisees are right. And yet, how does Jesus respond?
His answer isn’t: No. You’re wrong. You misinterpreted the Law. Or even to blame them for spying on the woman. What were they doing, that they were able to catcher “in the very act?”
No. He responds with silence. He kneels down and begins “writing on the ground with His finger.” (8:6) Why? Why doesn’t He correct them? Why doesn’t He chastise them? In Matthew’s Gospel, when the same guys come with another question about God commanding a writ of divorce, Jesus seems almost to shake His head and sigh, “It was because of the hardness of your hearts that Moses allowed you to divorce…” (cf. Mt 19:7-9). Why doesn’t He say something like that here, too? I wonder.
They are saying something provocative and dangerous. And it is very clear that they have come to Him not seeking answers but an excuse for something they already have in their hearts. They are truly hungry for blood. This crowd has been riled up and is ready to erupt.
On some level, they remind me of those people in Washington DC who stormed the capitol. People who were clearly riled up and ready to explode. They were not in Washington to seek answers or debate issues. From all appearances, they were there to cast stones.
I have been wondering about that event for a few days now. The horror of it, the anger that overwhelmed many of the protesters --turning them into a violent mob. Five people died. But I have also been thinking about some of the faces I keep seeing on the news. On many of them I see anger and rage and frustration, but on others I see smiles and something like glee. In some of these pictures and videos, I see what looks more like a bunch of middle-aged high-schoolers out for a last fling—a lark! A kind of Spring Break from Covid and isolation and the exhausting lives they find themselves trapped in.
I do not mean to denigrate their anger, or deny that they may sincerely feel aggrieved; may even sincerely feel like their election was stolen. But… how do we stop this craziness? How do we stop this divisiveness? How do we stop our country, our society, our culture from self-destruction, from becoming nothing but a raging series of reactionary riots?
One way might be to look to Jesus for an example. The crowd comes to Him, ready for a fight, hungering for justification and confrontation. And instead of correcting them, or engaging in their anger, He listens and even takes notes. And by doing so—what happens? The tension is released. The crowd is dispersed—in fact, it disperses itself. The frenzy that caught up the crowd has been calmed, because someone helped them slow down and think—slow down and remember who they were. Not riotous murderers, but people, families, fathers and brothers and sons, mothers and daughters and… people. Just ordinary people who have struggled with their own sins and failings, their own weaknesses and longings.
Jesus doesn’t argue with them or their understanding of the Law. He simply listens to them, to their concerns, and then asks them to remember who they are.
What a beautiful lesson we get every time we open the scripture. If only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Lord, open my eyes that I may read Your word more clearly
Lord, open my ears that I may hear Your word more fully
and open my heart, that I may be filled
with the Love that is always found there.