John 8:4-5 “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
No one denied that this woman was actually guilty of adultery–some form of extra-marital sex. Jesus didn’t question it. The woman herself never denied it. She wasn’t being mistreated because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law said what she did was wrong.
In this even the Pharisees and teachers of the law were wiser than so many who would like to take the commandment “You Shall Not Commit Adultery” off the books. They call it a victimless sin, at least where everyone involved has given their consent. “Sex is healthy, and it’s natural, and restricting it to marriage simply gets in the way of a beautiful thing,” is the claim. I don’t have to document that claim for you, do I? You watch TV and go to movies. You see the magazines in the checkout lane at the grocery store.
The truth is, sex is healthy and it is natural. But take it outside of marriage and it hurts everybody. It often robs children of one of their parents. It erodes our ability to form trusting, committed, lasting relationships. It spreads disease. When it leads to pregnancy it may cut short a young person’s education and employability, fostering first poverty and then crime. Without boundaries it makes us less self-disciplined and self-controlled. It moves us more and more in the direction of seeing other people as objects for our use rather than children of God for us to serve. It makes all of society less stable, less functional. The God whose main concern is that we love our neighbor was consistent with that goal when he commanded, “You shall not commit adultery.”
That doesn’t mean the woman’s accusers were taking the right course of action with her. She may have sinned, but she was a sinner mistreated. When the prophet Nathan came to David after his adultery with Bathsheba, he had a rather elaborate presentation to bring David to repent of his sin so that the Lord could restore him. It seems that there was some concern for the man’s soul.
Where is there any evidence of that kind of concern for the woman here? Where is their sense of grief and shame that a sister in the faith has fallen? Where is the seeking love, hoping to bring a lost sinner to repentance and restore her to God?
Where are we as we react to a world whose morals should make us blush? Are we too weak to resist? Are our own attitudes about sexuality coming more and more from the trash on TV or the biblically ignorant people with whom we work?
Or in our zero tolerance, one-strike-and-you’re-out world are we angry and mean and hoping to make an example out of someone? Does it matter to us how a sinner is treated, because they probably have it coming anyway?
Maybe Jesus’ final verdict unsettles us: “Neither do I condemn you.” Don’t misunderstand his words. He is not approving her sin. He does not excuse it. Those who want to remove adultery from the things condemned by the 10 commandments cannot appeal to Jesus’ words here.
These are words of forgiveness. In fact, they express perfectly what we mean when we use that five-dollar theological word “Justification.” Justification is God’s not guilty verdict. When God justifies us, he declares us not guilty of our sins. He declares us not guilty, not because we haven’t committed sin, but because he doesn’t count it against us. He counted it against Jesus instead when Jesus died on the cross.
Isn’t that what he is telling the woman here? “Neither do I condemn you.” “I declare you not guilty, though you know full well you committed the sin.” You are free from you sin. You are justified. Now you can go…and leave it.
Jesus never gives us a license to indulge our sins. He does not deny that we have committed them. But he doesn’t throw stones at us. He melts and breaks our stone cold hearts with his grace and mercy. You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.