8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] (John 8:1-11 (ESV)
So we have a passage with a checkered past. Notice the brackets. The earliest in which this passage finds itself in the texts is 130 AD. The manuscripts that we have earlier than that do not have this beloved passage. Seriously, I couldn’t imagine a Bible without it. I summarizes so well the teachings of Christ that are found everywhere else, that it almost doesn’t matter if he really said it. Kind of like Luther at the Diet of Worms, if he didn’t say “Here I Stand!”, he should have.
130 AD. is awfully early in the formation of the canon, at this point you have men Polycarp, and Papias who knew the apostles personally themselves. We don’t figure John fit this in to his gospel, but many scholars are convinced that this is, nonetheless, a true story concerning Christ, that was added to John’s gospel by early disciples lest it be lost. Perhaps, it was a story used as an illustration for one of Peter’s sermons, or Thomas? Who knows. The language, and syntax are a bit unusual for John, who doesn’t otherwise talk of Scribes, for instance.
The story is rather peculiar. A woman caught in adultery, yet no man to be found. They want Jesus to condemn her. And Jesus just starts writing on the ground with a stick. One does wonder what he was writing. When they badger him enough he sends his message home fast and hard. “Let him who is without sin be first to throw a stone at her.” The odd part follows, they all drop their stones.
Without sin, they all examine themselves and drop their stones, they walk away one by one. You get the impression that these men may have shared their particular sin with this woman caught in adultery. Their eagerness to stone her for it testifies to the sin within their heart. Jesus is without sin, and has compassion. The one qualified to stone, and yet the qualification for stoning is exactly the one thing that makes him uninclined to stone. To be without sin, by nature means to be filled with love that fulfills the law, and love is compassionate, love desires mercy.
I say it is peculiar though, that these men drop their stones and walk away because it isn’t in their nature to admit sin. The words of Jesus are convicting. They bring about repentance. In other areas of Scripture you have the Pharisees and Scribes bragging about how they keep the law, how they refrain from sinning. It isn't hard to see the Pharisees and scribes in people today. I am amazed, often amazed at people who convince themselves that they do not sin, that they are without sin. Man wants to believe this so badly, and what man wants to believe is exactly what they will believe despite evidence to the contrary. A man caught in adultery, will instantly blame the woman and maintain his innocence, for him it was a mistake, for her it was a sin. Hence the conundrum of a woman caught in adultery by herself.
When all the men are gone, the woman is left alone with Jesus. If there are none there to condemn her, then he will not condemn her either. Jesus remains true to his word, that he did not come to condemn the world but save it. Go and sin no more he tells her. This isn’t a matter of Jesus expecting the woman never again to have a lustful thought, or being angry, or committing any number of sins in her life. But two things. It is Jesus acknowledging that adultery is in fact sin.
This is important. Jesus doesn’t let her off the hook because he thinks she is innocent. He knows she is guilty of the crime for which she has been charged. And neither does he let her off the hook because he thinks it is a trivial matter and not really a sin. This is man’s way out. We like to think we can determine for ourselves what is and isn’t sin. We are even so crass as to use our perverted sense of love to justify sin. Rather incredible. I was thinking about this the other day in regards to the disintegration of the ELCA over the homosexuality bit. I find it bothersome. The movements that I see splitting from the ELCA don’t seem to want to consider scripture or take it seriously when it comes to a myriad of other issues like women’s ordination, but when it comes to homosexuality, then it is a serious issue. I tend to see that as bigoted. Of course they see me as bigoted because I think women shouldn’t be pastors, shouldn’t preach etc. I couldn’t much tell you why I believe that except for one thing, and it is scripture. And despite all the confusion that one can create around the passages in question, scripture makes it clear that when it comes to what is happening in the divine service (the whole bit about authority of men and women remaining silent not teaching, whether in 1 Cor. Or 1 Tim. It is in the context of a greater discussion concerning right worship.) women are not to preach, as in all the churches. I take all the churches to mean all churches everywhere and at every time, that based on another discussion concerning the communion of saints and the eternal nature of the Bride of Christ. If it wasn’t for scripture saying it was immoral for a woman to preach, I would not think it immoral. Of course, if it wasn’t for scripture saying it was immoral for a man to have sexual relations with another man, I may have an aversion to it myself, but I doubt I’d find it immoral. There are many things I probably would not find immoral if scripture hadn’t told me. But that is the thing. We think we can determine what is moral and immoral, and we really aren’t good at that, we are not without sin. We are with sin, and sin taints it for us. Perhaps God is just being arbitrary and has not good reason to say women should not teach or have authority over man. I could guess at reasons for him saying that, but I could not be definitive with it. Maybe he isn’t. But it isn’t God who is being arbitrary when we decide to listen to his word here, and ignore it there. Now I suspect that my brothers elsewhere in the world of Lutheranism would say that a man who lives such an immoral life as to have sex with another man disqualifies himself from the office. Whereas there is nothing immoral about being a woman. True enough. But then what makes it any more or less immoral for a woman to ignore God’s word where preaching is concerned, than for a man to ignore God’s word where sex is concerned? At the root the sin is the same, a disregard for God’s word. And on that I have to drop my stone too. There is no way around it, God’s law will get you. Go and sin no more.
Go and sin no more. Yes it is sin. Yes, stop doing it. You’ll do yourself a favor by not returning to it like a dog to vomit. Forgiveness isn’t condoning sin, it is freeing from it. It isn’t license to sin. It is mercy and grace. It is a mercy and grace that the believer lives in, and remains in for his entire life because the one thing a believer will always come to realize is as long as we inhabit this body we will sin, and we will have need of forgiveness.