The Woman Caught in Adultery
The following is an excerpt from Who is Jesus?
How did I ever become such a disgrace? I loathe myself. My parents’ morals were high. We attended synagogue as required. One time I had the sweet opportunity to travel with my family to the temple in Jerusalem. I remember well the long, hot journey because it touched my heart to share the holy pilgrimage with so many. All this to say, because of the moral teachings ingrained in me since birth, I intended to live upright.
At fourteen, I was given in marriage to a man twenty years older than me. His first wife died during the birth of their ninth child. As a silk trader, he provided well for us. Still, the responsibility of nine children and the oversight of a huge household, literally overnight, frazzled me. To make matters worse, his oldest children were my age. Even though this family situation was common, it made me feel awkward.
City life was hard to adjust to, especially over-crowded Jerusalem. In Emmaus, my town, everyone knew and trusted each other. Exhaustion and irritability became my middle names. I still wonder if my overall outlook was the reason my husband spent little time with me. I will never know.
From morning till dark, strangers filled our streets. “Look out for the crooks,” my stepchildren warned. “You can be mugged or, at the least, taken advantage of as you shop.” After a few years, I thought I developed an instinct about who to trust and who not to in this bustling city.
Eventually, I enjoyed the daily trip to the upper market, the haggle over prices, the smell of food and animals and people all scrunched into tiny alleys. And it was exciting to meet people from towns far and wide. Sometimes, I happened upon a vendor from Emmaus, and was thrilled to hear about life in my hometown. A few vendors became my favorites because they seemed honest and carried quality product. I learned the hard way that trust without wisdom makes one quite vulnerable. I’m not making excuses. Only I am responsible for both my good and bad actions, regardless of how naïve I might call myself.
After years of buying from the same traders, I had the most confidence in a particular man. His seeming kind interest in my family was like that of a friend. In all honesty, it felt good to have a man show interest in my life. His attention lured me into a lair I never imagined possible. I was frightened. When everyone learned the dishonor I brought to my husband and family, guilt and shame consumed me like a great wave. Wash me away, was my last desire.
I am well aware of the tradition: a woman caught in adultery is stoned to death. I never took part in that inhumane punishment. But I did hang around to watch. The woman’s eyes filled with pain, fear and disbelief. She begged for mercy. Red-faced, angry men offered none; one by one they raised heavy stones. Fury strengthened throw after throw. The memory of those horrors always makes me shudder. Now it’s my turn.
“Take her with us.” His voice was dark. The local synagogue leader seized my arm and practically dragged me through narrow streets to the Temple. I am probably the most immoral person who ever lived. I deserve such a horrid death. I had one hope that my life would be spared: because of the Roman occupation, Jews needed permission for everything, including to execute a Jew who broke their own law.
A cloud of stifling dust carried me and the growing crowd to my final destination. Their remarks were like swords that pierced my heart. “Evil!” And, “Disgusting!” Or, “Immoral and dirty!” Jabs accompanied their ugly accusations. People pulled my hair, and it fell loose.
Then I was thrust headlong into the dirt at the feet of the scribes and Pharisees. “Look at this,” the leader’s high pitched cry could be heard for miles, I’m sure. “She has been caught in adultery!”
The dust settled around us and one by one the face of each spangled Pharisee put on the same sly smile. With arms crossed and eyebrows raised, they nodded to one another in that way that says, “We are all thinking the same wicked thought – she will never do this again.” One stepped forward and grabbed my arm. He shoved me toward a crowd sitting in the outer courts. I stumbled over many sandaled feet and landed where a man sat on a mat, facing the group, as though teaching
Then I looked up. Oh, no! It’s Jesus of Nazareth. I had heard him teach. He seemed so different from any person I ever knew. His dark eyes were soft with compassion. His movements were purposeful, yet gentle. His words amazed hearers over and over again. I never heard of him doing or saying one unkind thing. Of all people, why someone who seemed so pure? I lowered my head to the ground.
Unknown to me, the Pharisees and Sadducees had been trying for days to trick Jesus into a reason to bring him to court. As a pawn in their plan, they were thrilled at my disgrace. In their minds, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. They were well aware that Jesus was versed in Scripture that directed adulterers be stoned to death. But they also knew the Roman requirements. Some of them actually licked their fat lips as they wondered how Jesus would talk his way out of this one.
With a thunderous voice that feigned respect, my accuser boomed, “Teacher, this woman was seized in the very act of adultery. In our law, Moses commanded us to execute a woman like her by stoning. What do you say we should do?” He spun around to me. “Stand up, you!”
I took my time to stand, careful to keep my head low and eyes closed. I cannot look into Jesus’ eyes. I held my breath. What will his answer be? Silence hung in the air. Finally, I raised my head just enough to peek.
Jesus leaned forward and drew in the dirt with his finger. His move incensed the religious leaders. Unable to keep quiet any longer, they badgered him with questions about my situation and their beloved law.
Lifting my head a bit more, I trembled as Jesus straightened up. One by one, he looked each man in the eye. They waited. His response astounded us all, “Let the one who is sinless among you throw the first stone at her.”
A tiny gasp escaped my lips. I am so bewildered. The sin of adultery, or any sin? Who did I know who didn’t sin? Maybe only this man called Jesus. Oh, no! Does that mean he will throw the first stone? He is so kind, surely not. But I am such a sinner. Fear strangled and choked me.
No one spoke or moved.
Jesus squatted then, and his cloak settled in the dust. Without a word, he drew in the dirt again. I stole a glimpse around. One by one the Pharisees and scribes realized the miserable failure of their trick, dropped their heads to face the ground, and shuffled out of Jesus’ presence in silence. The oldest led them. Even the gawking townspeople scuffed away without a word.
This is it. Only Jesus and I are left. Now he alone will stone me to death. How could I possibly be so wrong about people’s character? I misjudged the market vendor. Now, Jesus.
Still squatting, he glanced up at me. “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one stayed to condemn you?”
My eyes traveled slowly around me. “No one, Lord,” I whispered. Jumbled thoughts raced through my mind. I can barely breathe.
Jesus leveled his eyes at me as he pronounced each word carefully, “I don’t condemn you either. Go on your way, but do not sin again.”
I stood still as a stone idol. What did I just hear? Could the gossip be true that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah? Who else could forgive my sin? The heavy beat of dread no longer thumped within; instead my heart quickened. Tears of gratefulness, not shame, sprang from my eyes. A smile grew that was nearly too large for my face to contain.
I dropped to my knees. I bowed my head, let tears continue to stream, and squeezed my hands together. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Because of you, I live. Today I choose never to sin again.”
Has my life been easy since that moment of forgiveness? Of course not. Under Roman occupation, a Jew’s life is not easy. Have I been perfect and sinless? Impossible. I am still human.
I spend my days trying to be more like the One who saved me. I serve not just him but those he came to save – the poor, the lonely and forgotten, the widows and orphans, the homeless, the sinners. Each day I recognize a change in my heart as joy overflows. I am more patient and, certainly, more forgiving. When I fail, I acknowledge my sin, and beg God’s forgiveness again, certain to receive it. His peace covers my entire being. And that has made all the difference.
Based on the story in John 8:2-11