Healing the Shamed: An Adulteress

Healing the Shamed: An Adulteress

Healing the Shamed: An Adulteress.

“In the middle of Jesus’ teaching in the temple courts, the religious scholars and the Pharisees broke through the crowds and brought a woman who had been caught in the act of committing adultery and made her stand in the middle of everyone. Then they said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we caught this woman in the very act of adultery. Doesn’t Moses’ law command us to stone to death a woman like this? Tell us, what do you say we should do with her?’ They were only testing Jesus because they hoped to trap Him with His own words and accuse Him of breaking the laws of Moses. But Jesus didn’t answer them, instead He simply bent down and wrote in the dust with his finger. Angry, they kept insisting that He answer their question, so Jesus stood up and looked at them and said, ‘Let’s have the man who has never had a sinful desire throw the first stone at her.’ And then He bent over again and wrote some more words in the dust. Upon hearing that, her accusers slowly left the crowd one at a time, beginning with the oldest to the youngest, with a convicted conscience. Until finally, Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there in front of Him. So He stood back up and said to her, ‘Dear woman, where are your accusers? Is there no one here to condemn you?’ Looking around, she replied, ‘I see no one, Lord.’ Jesus said, ‘Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, leave your sinful ways.’”  (John 8:3-11).

Whether intentional or not, the story of Jesus and the adulteress has shame as a central feature. The woman was shamed from every angle of the story. She was caught while in the very act of adultery by the religious authorities. She must have been feeling a profound mixture of guilt and humiliation. The Pharisees then brought her directly to the Temple Court where Jesus was in the middle of a teaching session for the people. There was undoubtedly a large throng of people there listening to Jesus, and the Gospel reported that the accusers made her stand right there in the middle of the crowd. Shame must have been coming out of every pore. Complete shame. And then comes the shame of being unfairly singled out by the mob of accusers. Where is the man who was also committing adultery? Why was she the only one who was humiliated and brought before the people, and not the man as well? After all, the authorities were basing their accusation on Leviticus 20:10, in which it is clearly stated that both the man and the woman committing adultery were to be stoned to death. So, the fact is that the authorities were disregarding the full Law, which makes them self-righteous hypocrites. Meanwhile, the woman is cowering, vulnerable and defenseless, in full view of everyone. She was looked at as a scandal and a sinner. What else would she feel but profound shame?

The Pharisees wanted to set a trap for Jesus, and the shamed woman was their perfect opportunity to put Jesus in a bind. If Jesus objects to the stoning, the authorities can accuse Jesus of breaking the Law of Moses. If He agrees to the stoning, He can be reported to the Roman authorities, since the Romans have outlawed execution for adultery. There is also the matter of mercy here. If Jesus approves of the stoning, He could be accused of ignoring the importance of mercy for repentant sinners. If He disapproves of the stoning, He is charged with being a Law-breaker. From all appearances, Jesus is stuck. But Jesus is playing chess while the Pharisees continue to play checkers.

Somehow I picture Jesus standing there in front of the woman, defending her against her accusers, defiantly standing with both arms outstretched around her in protection. In a moment of emotion and high drama in the Temple courts, Jesus wisely and calmly turned down the temperature. He even wrote in the dust with his fingers to give everyone a chance to take a breath and think about what’s going on. He pointed out that all the accusers have had their own moments of sinfulness, they are not without sin themselves, and they all ended up dropping the stones and slinking away. The Torah required two witnesses for an execution, and they all departed. There was no one left but Jesus and the shamed woman. He didn’t condemn the adulteress, but neither did He condone what she did. He faced her and told her she was free to go, but that she was to leave her life of sin. Do not continue in this life, says Jesus. And that’s the last we hear of her.

Jesus lovingly faced the shame and sin head-on. He didn’t ignore it. But in His grace, the shame was put to rest. It’s almost as if He scorned her shame, much like he did on the Cross. We can hopefully believe that since He didn’t condemn her, she didn’t condemn herself as well. Jesus restored her dignity so she could begin a new life. He gave her a divine vote of confidence and showed that He believed in her. In the presence of Jesus’ love, there was no room for shame. Instead of experiencing rejection and judgment, she became a beloved object of God’s grace. And her shame was healed in the process.