No Longer a Slave to Sin
The Gospel of John, chapter 8, records the story of an encounter between Jesus and a group of Pharisees and scribes. Once again, they are trying to stump Jesus, and hopefully humiliate him publicly, with a point of Law. To do this they have brought a woman before him and have made her stand in front him and of the crowd people surrounding Jesus. They announce that they have caught this woman in the act of adultery and demand to know what sentence she should receive for her sin. They do not care about the shame and humiliation they are causing the woman and neither do they explain why they have chosen to not to bring the man she was having the affair with. All they care about is their standing before the people and their doctrines and theological positions. They are the establishment who feel threatened by this humble yet powerful teacher and Rabbi.
Jesus is well aware that the standing rule of the Law is that the adulterous would normally face a death sentence if proven guilty by her accusers. Her sentence and execution are to be immediate and should be sanctioned by the highest spiritual authority present. Thus, the teachers of the Law have placed the issue literally at Jesus’ feet, they are waiting for him to pass the formal sentence. If he does condemn her to death, they are certain that Jesus will lose his unique appeal with those who follow him. If he doesn’t condemn her then he will be exposed as a fraud who does not honor and uphold the Law.
In response to the challenge, John tells us that Jesus simply kneels and begins writing in the dirt with his finger. We don’t know what he writes but whatever it is it unnerves the accusers. But they keep demanding that he give his verdict, that he authorize the public stoning of the condemned woman. At one point Jesus stops his writing and looks up the accusers to pronounce his verdict, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7) and continues his writing in the dirt. His answer, though, shocks and convicts the accusers. They know they are not sinless and therefore cannot carry out to the verdict they have asked for. Instead, they choose, one by one, to quietly exit the premises leaving Jesus alone with the accused woman.
What Jesus does next is unprecedented and marks the beginning of a new era of grace. He looks at the woman who now stands alone before him, ashamed and publicly humiliated. He had held her life in his hands and could have been justified by the Law to sentence her to death. But instead, he spared her and now asks a simple yet profound question; “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”. To which she responds, “No, Lord.” There is no one left to accuse or condemn her.
Here is where we see grace at work. Though she is guilty she has found mercy. Though she is is a “sinner” she is no more a sinner than anybody else. Though she should be sentenced to death she has been forgiven. This is what Jesus brings to the world. He reveals the heart of his Father, the love that is always balanced by grace.
Now comes the final verdict from the Rabbi-Teacher-Messiah; “Neither do I (condemn you). Go and sin no more.” Two remarkable pronouncements! The first declaration is that Jesus did not come to the world to condemn sinners but to forgive them. That we are all sinners who will find grace and forgiveness when we turn to the Father. The second truth revealed in Jesus’ statement is that not only are we forgiven but can choose to break sin’s control on our life; we can be free from the control of sin and it’s destructive habits. Jesus boldly instructs the adulterous woman to go back home and stop being the adulterous woman. His underlying premise is that with forgiveness comes new spiritual empowerment that allows us to take control of our sinning and the bad habits it brings with it. We now have the power to choose what habits control our lives. This is grace at work and at the very heart of the Good News Jesus came to announce to the world; you do not have to be a slave to bad habits!