Scripture: John 8:1-11
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this testing Him so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “ I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (NASB)
Jesus Teaching in the Temple
The stories about Jesus abound in Jerusalem. People are always excited to share what they have seen or heard about him. He eats with tax collectors and sinners! Can you believe it? Did you hear about what happened when he went to the house of Zaccheaus? He completely changed and made restitution to everyone he had taken advantage of. This Jesus is amazing!
They try to outdo one another on sharing a great miracle or healing that they have either witnessed or heard about as well. I heard he fed thousands of people with only 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish. I heard he raised a young girl from the dead! I saw him heal a blind and mute man by casting out a demon. He healed my brother’s son. I saw him heal a blind man. Jesus healed my uncle of leprosy.
The popularity of Jesus continues to rise, and more and more people are flocking to him for a chance to hear him teach in person, especially when he is Jerusalem as he is now. Our text today starts off with another day in which Jesus rises in the morning and then makes the short trip from the Mount of Olives, where he has been residing at night, to the temple in Jerusalem where he plans to spend most of the day teaching in the temple. Knowing that this is Jesus’ routine, many people are there waiting for him when he arrives.
Jesus is in the temple, the place where God meets with His people, and Jesus is teaching a great crowd of people who have come to listen and learn from him. Jesus is sitting and the people are eagerly attentive to every word he speaks. He teaches as no other. It is evident that Jesus has a greater understanding of God than anyone else the people have ever heard teach. In addition, people are naturally drawn to Jesus, he is not standoffish, he is compassionate, and he is attentive to those who usually are ignored by other great teachers. One cannot help but feel welcomed and included in his presence.
A Woman brought front and center
However, this morning, Jesus’ teaching is interrupted. The scribes and Pharisees bring forth a woman and place her in the center of the large crowd that surrounds Jesus. They loudly proclaim to Jesus and everyone else within hearing distance that this woman is guilty of adultery, she had been caught in the act and they desire to know what Jesus says should be done to her. While pointing their fingers at the women, they studiously remind him that the law of Moses says that such a woman is to be stoned, and ask if he agrees?
Imagine this woman’s humiliation and fear. She has been brought to a public place and forced to stand before a large crowd of people and have her sins broadcast for everyone to hear. I know that there is not a person in this room who hasn’t sinned. I want to ask how many of you would want your friends and relatives to know about your sin, much less a public service announcement being made about it while you are forced to stand in front of the group of people at that time.
And she’s not just in any public place, but she has been publicly shamed in the temple. All the eyes that were watching Jesus as he taught are now laser-focused on this woman, who can do nothing but hang her head and stare at her feet. Tears are streaming down her beet red face, and she is shaking in fear because she knows what is about to happen to her. She is going to die a painful death at the hands of these men now watching her and condemning her. It is not a stretch to image that as she is in the temple, she is probably murmuring a silent prayer to God asking for mercy as fingers from the crowd point at her and speak in hushed tones. She hopes she passes out in fear before the first blow of a stone hits her.
What makes this deplorable situation even worse is that we are told that this woman’s sins are not even the issue. The scribes and Pharisees don’t care about her sins at all, she is simply being used to test Jesus. See, the religious leaders are very aware of the teachings and popularity of Jesus, and they are very upset at how he seems to contradict the Law of Moses. In their view, he has disregarded the Sabbath and many other ritual purity laws, such as eating with people who are known sinners. They motivation in bringing forth this woman and shaming her is so that they will then have a case against Jesus and condemn him. They are certain that based on his past teachings and actions that he will defy the Law of Moses and say this woman is not to be condemned and they can hardly wait for his answer because then they will have him!
Jesus the Center of focus
The narrative spotlight now moves off the woman and shifts to Jesus, who is to be center stage for the next part of the story. The scribes and Pharisees have marched into one of the Temple courts and interrupted Jesus’ teaching and demanded an answer about what to do with this woman caught in adultery. Instead of answering Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. We are not told what he wrote, but as we will see in a moment it is his the movement of stooping to write that is significant as unbeknownst to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus is still teaching.
The Finger of God
While there is a wide array of speculation about what Jesus may have written, it is that he has written and how he has written that is important here. Even though the text is fixated on the scribes, Pharisees, the woman, and Jesus; there is a crowd of people that surround them, and they are watching and listening. Jesus is teaching them and us something important here. Once again after questioning Jesus about Moses’ Law, scripture says “But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.” So what? You may ask. What did Jesus write with, and why is the narrator telling us this? With his finger. Jesus stooped down and with the finger of God he wrote on the earth. While being questioned about the law of Moses, which God wrote on tablet stones with his own finger, God incarnate now writes upon the earth, the earth that he created, the earth that had been cursed because of the sin of human beings. God is intervening here in the affairs of human beings; he is doing something.
In addition to God writing on the stone tablets with his finger, the phrase ‘finger of God’ is also used in Exodus regarding the plague of the gnats. After striking the earth the gnats appear and Pharoah’s magicians are unable to duplicate the work of God, and Pharoah’s magicians tell Pharaoh that this is the finger of God at work. What is done by the finger of God cannot be done by anyone else.
Jesus also uses the term finger of God in Luke’s gospel. After healing a mute man by casting out a demon, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus replies to the Pharisees, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20). The finger of God demonstrates the power of God, the kingdom of God on the scene. God through Jesus Christ is proclaiming that things are changing. And we see it the start of this change when Jesus straightens up and speaks to the scribes and Pharisees who have continuously been questioning him. We can see from the scriptural examples that the finger of God brings new life, liberation, and a way forward WITH God.
Jesus addresses accusers
Jesus straightened up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” To the scribes and Pharisees stunned amazement, Jesus did not disagree with the Law of Moses. The law of Moses says stone her, so stone her, he states. But he doesn’t leave it at that. Jesus places a condition upon them—the person without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. In this condition Jesus places each of them front and center before the judgment seat of God. Who would be able to stand in the house of God and with a clear conscious be able to cast that first stone to condemn the woman?
I believe there are two dimensions to this self-judgment that the scribes and Pharisees are now faced with. First, is their sin and guilt due to their motivations for bringing the woman to Jesus. They have been pointing their fingers at her and proclaiming loudly her sin of adultery, while completely ignoring their own willingness to have a person killed just so they could accuse a man of teaching views that are contrary to the law of Moses. Just like Cain they are willing to commit fratricide. Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous of God’s approval of Abel and not of himself. When Cain is confronted by God, God says, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). The ground is said to have swallowed up Abel’s blood and Cain would pay the price for it. Likewise, the scribes and Pharisees were going to do the same thing, they would have had this woman’s blood on their hands had they have stoned her because she was simply a pawn they were willing to sacrifice in order to tear down Jesus, who had the support and popularity of the people, the healing power of God, a full understanding of the word of God, and the ability to connect with the people—all things they desired, but did not have. They could not honestly look at themselves and confess before God that they were without sin in this situation. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment, you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:1-5). While the woman was guilty of adultery, they were guilty of willingly agreeing to slay another Israelite for selfish and prideful reasons.
Second, Jesus is addressing the universal sinfulness of humankind. While the scribes and Pharisees wanted to focus on the sin of this woman from the law of Moses, Jesus is attempting to draw their attention to more primordial sin, their sinful condition that goes back to Adam and Eve eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Is there any person who is sinless, and in right standing that is able to judge as God? No. The book of James tells us, “Brothers and sister, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12). After Jesus speaks, he once again stoops down and writes on the earth. The finger of God is once again at work. God has intervened and the result is that stones begin dropping to the ground and one by one the scribes and Pharisees leave. God has intervened and not only saved a woman from dying, but the scribes and Pharisees have been saved from having blood on their hands. They would have been guilty of murder had they proceeded.
Jesus addresses the adulteress
Yet, the finger of God is not finished working. God is not only interested in saving lives; there is another lesson still to be learned. With now only Jesus and the woman in the midst of the crowd who had come to hear Jesus teach, Jesus finishes writing, and straightens once more and speaks this time to the woman. After inquiring about the woman’s accusers, she tells Jesus that no one condemned her. And then we get the rest of the lesson when Jesus replies, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” The woman was left standing before the Son of God, the one man on earth who was without sin, the one man on earth who was righteous before God and who could cast the first stone and not incur judgment upon himself for doing so, and he does not condemn her. Mercy and love are extended to the woman instead of condemnation. Note, Jesus acknowledges her guilt—go and sin no more he says. Yet, despite knowing she was guilty of adultery, Jesus is showing the heart of God’s law that the scribes and Pharisees had failed to see when studying the Torah. Judgment is always connected with love and mercy. She was given a clean slate, a chance at a new life. Here in the house of God her silent pray had been answered. Deserving to die, she receives life; deserving consequences, she receives compassion; deserving misfortune, she receives mercy.
All the while the crowd has been watching and listening to Jesus teach the importance of dealing lovingly and nonjudgmentally with others, despite what they have done. Jesus doesn’t shame, doesn’t point fingers, doesn’t threaten. Jesus treats the woman with respect, love, mercy and grace. While some are busy pointing fingers and judging others, the finger of God intercedes and establishes kingdom justice that requires seeing others through the loving eyes of God and judging ourselves rather than judging others.