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Just a stone's throw away

Jesus & Co

An old proverb claims that ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’. If true, the people Jesus met can offer insight into his character and world view, as Nigel Bovey investigates

The adulterous woman (John 8:1-11)

Caught red-handed, she now appeared red-faced

NOBODY likes to be caught out. Early one morning, Jesus was teaching in the Temple, when the religious authori­ties paraded a woman in front of him who had been ‘caught in the very act of committing adultery’ (John 8:4 Good News Bible). ‘The very act.’ The very idea! Someone had seen this woman having sex.

Caught red-handed, she now appeared red-faced before the sinless Jesus. Not only did the religious leaders catch the woman at a most intimate moment, but they were now also trying to catch Jesus out.

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ is one of the Ten Commandments. According to biblical Jewish law, adultery is sexual intercourse between a man and a married woman. The punishment – for both parties – is death (see Leviticus 20:10).

With evidence at hand and law at their fingertips, the leaders pressed Jesus for his verdict.

They had, though, motives other than justice. If Jesus disagreed with them, then he was not a God-honouring, law-abiding prophet. If Jesus agreed with them, then his message of forgiveness and new life counted for nothing.

Jesus took a moment. He wrote some words in the sand. He then addressed the leaders: ‘Whichever one of you has com­mitted no sin may throw the first stone at her’ (8:7). They condemned themselves. One by one, they walked away until none was left.

Finally, it was just Jesus and the woman. They both knew she was in the wrong. Having never himself committed a sin, Jesus was qualified to punish her. Instead, he chose to forgive: ‘I do not condemn you either’ (8:11).

Wrongdoing was not brushed aside or minimised by a swift absolution. Forgiveness was a starting point, rather than a destination. Jesus told the woman: ‘Go, but do not sin again’ (8:11).

Committing a sexual sin does not put us outside of God’s grace or his willingness to forgive. With the freedom that God’s for­giveness brings comes the power to live a new way, including the strength to seek for­giveness from those we have hurt.

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