bible blog 1273

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


John 7:53-8:11

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

53 Then they all left, each one to his own home.

8 But Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak, he appeared again in the Temple Court, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery and made her stand in the center of the group. Then they said to him, “Rabbi, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in our Torah, Moshe commanded that such a woman be stoned to death. What do you say about it?” They said this to trap him, so that they might have ground for bringing charges against him; but Yeshua bent down and began writing in the dust with his finger. When they kept questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bent down and wrote in the dust again. On hearing this, they began to leave, one by one, the older ones first, until he was left alone, with the woman still there. 10 Standing up, Yeshua said to her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” Yeshua said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and don’t sin any more.

adultThis is a very interesting passage, as it doesn’t really belong to the Gospel of John but was placed there in many ancient manuscripts of the third century CE. . A number of manuscripts have placed it in Luke chapter 21. Certainly the vocabulary and focus of interest are more like Luke than John. It’s a well- known type of Jesus story in which a “trap” is set by his opponents from which he must escape by some special piece of wisdom. Doubtless people in the early church enjoyed these stories as illustrations of Jesus’ ability to turn the tables on the religious establishment, but in all cases such tales are also examples of Jesus’ profound understanding of God’s goodness. 

“Caught committing adultery”- this is a shaming phrase. How did they catch her  “in the  act of committing adultery”? Did they have a spy? They brought her in to Jesus, as if she had been committing adultery all by herself. The man of course was an unwilling victim of the woman’s lust. Then they humiliated her by making her the focus of attention. Simone Weil writes angrily about the poor dumb wretch in the dock having to endure a stream of elegant witicisms from the magistrate. Here it is a pious recital of Mosaic Law.

Jesus’ writing in the dust has puzzled commentators and aroused the wildest flights of imagination. From my childhood I have imagined that Jesus’ writing in dust was a mockery of the righteous denunciations of the Pharisees, which are also, as it were, written in dust and soon to be erased. The arrogance of human dust is to imagine that its judgements stand before God, even when, or perhaps especially when, they quote holy writ. 

Then Jesus delivers his thunderbolt: “The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” At first it seems crazy. No human beings are without sin, so this teaching would mean that nobody would ever be stoned, nobody would ever suffer the death penalty! Disgraceful! Or, maybe, wonderfully right. In a world where we share common responsibility for evil who can justly take away a fellow sinners life? This is a story which still retains its explosive challenge to our moral and judicial certainties.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Even in the moment of public defeat the Pharisees’ team “keeps its shape” (as football managers say), and they exit in order of precedence by age.

Jesus’ gentleness and respect for the woman is made evident. There is humour in his question and gratitude in her answer. He adds his own name to the list of those who will not condemn, as if he is not the instigator of this forgiveness. It is forgiveness rather than permissiveness for he urges her to sin no more. In the temple court, faced with his legalistic opponents and their disheveled captive, Jesus announces the quiet wisdom of God who strips condemnatory righteousness naked and clothes its victim with forgiveness.

What a story this is! Perhaps it was too explosive to be included in any of the original gospels until the boldness of the church prevailed and found it a home in John Chapter 8. It’s one of the great short stories of the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: