Scripture reference: John 8:3–11 Bible Search Tool
The situation. One day some scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery, “in the very act” (John 8:4). They quoted Moses’ Law, which called for stoning, and asked Jesus, “ ‘But what do You say?’ ”
Several things make this approach to Jesus unusual:
• The woman was caught “in the very act.” Where was the man who was also subject to stoning?
• Where would a person go to catch someone “in the very act”? How would the Pharisees, noted for their claim to holiness, have known where to go?
• While Mosaic Law prescribed stoning for adultery, this penalty was not imposed in the first century. Rabbinic courts rigorously avoided imposing the death penalty.
• A panel of rabbis, not an individual, would deal with such a case. Besides, the scribes and Pharisees did not recognize Jesus’ authority.
These facts make it clear that the delegation was not seeking a legal opinion, nor were they concerned with punishing the woman. They wanted to discredit Jesus. If He called for stoning, He would alienate the people. If He failed to call for stoning, they could accuse Him of denying the authority of the Law.
Rather than answer their question, Jesus simply said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Jesus then stooped and wrote on the ground. One by one the woman’s accusers slipped away, leaving Jesus and the adulteress alone. No one was left to condemn her, and Jesus said, “ ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’ ” (John 8:11).
Jesus’ response to the challenge not only avoided the trap; it also radically changed the status of the woman. Before Christ spoke, the woman had been nothing more than an abstract test case, a disposable object to be used against Jesus. But Jesus would not deal with her in the abstract. Jesus treated her and her accusers as human beings. In insisting that one without sin cast the first stone, Jesus forced each opponent to examine his own conscience and to deal with his own humanity rather than with legal theory.
Then Jesus spoke to the woman. While Jesus assured the woman that He did not condemn her, He let her know that He was fully aware of her guilt. He told her to go, but He also told her to sin no more. Jesus treated her as a person responsible for her own actions. She had the ability to make choices—even to make choices that reversed the course of her former life.
Jesus did not dismiss her sin; He granted her a reprieve. He gave her the freedom to go, and He implicitly recognized that the choices she had yet to make would determine the shape of her future. In telling her to “ ‘sin no more,’ ” Jesus reminded the woman that the choice was hers. She had known what was right before and had made the wrong choice. Would she make a better choice tomorrow?
Some might answer by referring to words she addressed to Jesus: “
“ ‘No one, Lord’ ” (8:11). Doesn’t this mean that she recognized Jesus as Lord and committed herself to obey Him? Wasn’t her future sure? No, for the Greek word translated “lord” was also used simply to express respect. Her words might better be rendered, “No one, sir.”
• It’s so easy to condemn others for their sins, or to use their sins to justify our own. (“At least I’ve never done that!”) Thankfully, our Savior is more gracious than we are.
• This woman’s story provides us with a beautiful example of how Christians can display Christ’s graciousness toward others. We are not to excuse sin, but we are not to condemn the sinner. Rather we point others to Jesus. He forgives sin, and provides the power needed to “ ‘go, and sin no more.’ ”
THE WIDOW OF NAIN
Scripture reference: Luke 7:11–16 Bible Search Tool
The text does not name the woman featured in this story, but it does tell us much about her. The dead man was her “only son,” and she was a “widow.” What this tells us is that the woman was in desperate straits. Without a husband or son she had no one to provide for her. When Jesus saw the funeral procession, He had compassion on her.
Two additional things are significant about the story. The first is that Jesus was not asked to help as He had been asked to help Peter’s wife’s mother.
The second is that Jesus was motivated by compassion. The Greek word here is splanchnizomai. The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words notes:
The word originally indicated the inner parts of the body and came to suggest the seat of the emotions—particularly emotions of pity, compassion, and love. . . . When Jesus’ response is such that he is described as being moved by compassion, the occasion is often the turning point in someone’s life (p. 180).
Surely the compassion Jesus felt for the woman was the turning point in her life. Before Jesus acted, she faced a bleak and frightening future, but at Jesus’ act of raising her son, her future was transformed. Not only was the one she loved and had lost restored, but she herself was now secure. Her son would inherit her husband’s estate and care for her until it was her own time to die.
Jesus’ compassion has proven to be the turning point in the life of all who trust Him. Without a personal relationship with Jesus, how bleak our future would be! Jesus, moved by love, chose to take the path that led to the cross and thus flung open the door to eternal life to all who will trust in Him.
THE ANOINTING SINNER
Scripture reference: Luke 7:36–50 Bible Search Tool
This is another of the anonymous women of the Gospel. We are never told her name, although some have erroneously identified her with other women who also anointed Jesus with oil or perfume. This woman, unlike the others, performed her act of love early in Jesus’ ministry while she was in the home of a Pharisee who despised her.
The text tells us that she was “a sinner.” While the Pharisees tended to look down on those not of their own order, Luke’s usage of the phrase “a sinner” and the Pharisee’s horror at the sight of her touching Jesus indicates she was probably a prostitute. As the Pharisee would have considered himself ceremonially unclean if such a woman touched him, the Pharisee immediately concluded that Jesus could not be a prophet or He would “know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
The Pharisee’s reaction tells us much about the woman’s prospects for the future. Her past actions had so defined her in the eyes of decent society that there is no hope for redemption. She had been labeled a “sinner.” Nothing the woman could do in the future would remove the label as far as the Pharisee and his like were concerned.
At this point Jesus asked the Pharisee to solve a simple riddle. If a creditor were to forgive two debtors, one who owed ten times as much as the other, which would love the creditor more? The answer was obvious, but Christ’s point was profound. The Pharisee, who assumed he had not sinned, served God but did not love God. The woman, who knew the depths of her degradation and who had sensed Jesus’ forgiving love, had been transformed within and now loved God supremely.
Knowing this, Jesus told the woman, “ ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ ” and added: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (7:48, 50). By these words the woman and her future were transformed. Her past was wiped out, and she was granted God’s own peace—a peace that would sustain her through the rest of her days on earth and on into eternity.
Our past is not as important as our present. The woman who came to Jesus had a past that she now regretted. Yet society, represented by the Pharisee, would always identify her by what she had been and had done. How wonderful that Jesus is able to transform our hearts. What we were, we no longer need be. In time, even society will recognize our new identity and take notice that we have been with Jesus.
Similarly, our past does not determine our future. Jesus accepted and appreciated the ministry of this woman who had been a sinner—even when His own disciples stood in judgment. Today, too, some seek to hinder others who are eager to serve for reasons that are no longer relevant in Christ.