John 8:2-8 (NIV)
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
Jesus took every opportunity to teach the people about the advent and reality of the Kingdom of God. The people were just as hungry to hear this good news as He was to give it. So He was at the temple as soon as the sun was up, and a crowd immediately began to gather around Him.
But that morning’s session was interrupted by a mob of scribes and Pharisees, dragging a woman into the crowd and standing her right in front of the spot where Jesus was seated teaching the people. The woman was obviously ashamed, her gaze directed straight down in front of her, unwilling to meet Jesus’ eyes.
The story the scribes and Pharisees told had a few holes in it. This woman was “caught in the act of adultery.” It was unclear if the man’s wife had caught her in bed with her husband (if so, she was the witness and had to be present to hold any kind of trial, let alone achieve a conviction), or if it was the assembly of these Jewish leaders, or a subset of them, who had stormed the bedroom and caught the couple together.
The other hole in the story was the man. The law these leaders approximately quoted to Jesus was incomplete. What the law actually says is, If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22 NIV) BOTH are to be executed, not just the woman. So, where was the man, who would also have been “caught in the act of adultery”?
The whole thing just didn’t smell right. John was 100% correct when he wrote that this was a setup, a trap. If Jesus said that they must follow the law and stone the woman, He would be running afoul of a Roman law that forbade the Jews from executing anyone (John 18:31), and so these leaders could accuse Jesus before the governor of subversion, or even treason. But if He said that she shouldn’t be stoned, He could be hauled before the Sanhedrin for teaching doctrine contrary to the law.
Jesus needed a moment to think and pray. So, He bent down and started to doodle in the dirt with His finger, purposefully tuning them out, effectively ignoring them while they yelled at Him that He had to make a decision in this case.
Finally, He had the answer that He needed. He straightened up, looked around at the angry faces of the leaders, and gave His judgment. The law was clear: the woman, if truly an adulteress, must be put to death. But one of them who had never committed a single sin themselves should be the one to throw the first stone. Then He went back to doodling on the ground, completely ignoring the crowd around Him.
Father, I am always blown away by Jesus’ wisdom and discernment. He never “shot from the hip”, never made a snap judgment. When confronted with a situation, He paused, he prayed, He listened until He knew what Your plan was for that moment, and then He unhesitatingly did that. That is obviously a really good model for us, His people, today. Help me to have the same wisdom, the same discernment, the same willingness to not react, but to reflect, until I hear Your voice, then the grace to move forward in obedience to your instructions. Amen.