John 7:53-8:11. Grace.

7:53    Then they all went home. 8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2   At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 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.7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9    At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11    “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.

The real crux of this controversy was Jesus’ attitude towards the Mosaic law. Put on the horns of a dilemma, will Jesus enforce the law? In Lev 20:10 and Deut 22:22 adulterers were to be publicly stoned. Jesus could have— but did not— ask the whereabouts of the man involved. The gender bias issues here are problematic but the religious leaders lost no time in drawing attention to the command of Moses. Would Jesus condemn the woman and uphold the Mosaic law? If he did, the teachers of the law and Pharisees knew that the civil authorities would not permit the sentence to be executed. Or would he evade the issue and by doing so condone the woman’s sin? He did neither.

What’s the deal with writing in the dirt? Some say that he wrote biblical passages in the dirt, others that he was doodling to show his disinterest in the case. If what he wrote was important, then the author probably would have included that information. It is possible that versus 6 and 8 represent simply a claim that Jesus could write—a claim quite significant in the ancient world, where most individuals were illiterate.

Regardless of Jesus’ writing in the dirt, which is incidental to the narrative, the point made is that mercy triumphs over condemnation. Jesus judges that the woman is indeed an adulterer who needs to repent. She must change: ‘Go and sin no more.’ The law is upheld but there are none worthy to execute the prescribed penalty. Instead, Jesus’ parting words to the woman echo his words to the cripple healed at Bethesda in John 5:14. Jesus does indeed judge according to God’s law… but at this time he does not condemn.

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that your mercy triumphs over the judgment I deserve. “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Ps 130:1-4)