Woman Caught in Adultery

John 8:3-11

Bible quotes: NRSV

Painting of woman with Jesus and a Pharisee
Christ with the woman taken in adultery – Guercino 1621

I was alone. Even though I was surrounded by men and a blood-lust crowd, I was alone. I had accepted my fate some time ago. After all, what can you expect if you are a woman caught in adultery. My so-called lover was nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t obliged to attend this trial – if that’s what it was. So while the religious establishment enumerated my transgressions, I simply stood alone, resigned to my fate.

I expected no leniency, no compassion. I learnt a long time ago not to expect such things. But still I hungered for tenderness, for love.

But that’s what got me here in the first place.

So I faced all these men who had no understanding of my need, and no understanding of those who exploited my need. The sentence had already been determined, but it seemed that they needed me for something else, something that involved a young Rabbi, before whom I was dragged.

I thought he would have no say in the matter, being so young. But I was wrong. Even the pharisees called him ‘Teacher’, so clearly he had some status among them. However, he was a Rabbi, so I knew I could expect no mercy, and in my resigned state took very little notice of him.

The Pharisees brought before this young man the charge – adultery – counting off the Torah texts that supported their decision to stone me to death.

It slowly dawned on me that they were not so much drawing him into their game, but playing power games, testing his alegiance to the law and the prophets. It seemed as if he was on trial as much as I.

I began to take interest.

I suppose I expected a long dissertation of arguments for and against. Instead he simply bent down and wrote something with his finger on the ground. I held my breath. How can someone simply doodle in the dust in the face of these accusations? Finally he straightened up and said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first the throw a stone at her.” And then he bent down and resumed his writing.

One by one they turned and went away. To their credit it was the elders who moved first, followed by less senior. Then the crowd itself dispersed. I couldn’t believe it! In one sentence he seemed to have disarmed all their arguments.

Eventually we were left alone, just he and I. He stood up, looked around and spoke to me – to me!! This was the first time in all this that I was being treated as though I mattered.

He said softly, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

I managed to stammer, “No one, sir.”

Then he said gently, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Then he simply smiled and walked away.

I don’t know how long I stood there. Nobody approached me. Nobody talked to me. I was still very much alone, but something had changed, something had shifted.

I knew I still had to face my family and kin, with whom I now had no place. I knew that I would be treated with suspicion and ostracised, but none of that seemed to matter. Suddenly I was free to be me, and knew that my deep longings would no longer dictate my behaviour.

Evicted from my social support group, after a while I found solace with the group of women who followed this young teacher, many of whom had experienced, in one way or another, what I had experienced. I grew to love this man.

And it’s not what you think.

It’s never what you think.

Rev’d. Sr. Sandra Sears CSBC
29 May 2017

Picture: I chose this art work because it depicts most clearly what I want to say. As the Pharisee enumerates sins and texts on his fingers, Jesus tries to point him to the woman, as if to say, “Look at her. Look at her, not just the Torah, but the human being that God loves. Let your decisions by tempered by that love.”

Sr. Sandra 


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