When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.”
During our school chapel yesterday, the speaker used the text on the woman caught in adultery from John 8. This is a familiar story to many who have grown up in the church. Familiarity, sadly, breeds contempt. It’s easy to sit back and say, “I’ve heard this before. I know what you are going to say.” In the case of those who have studied the Bible academically, arguments as to whether John 8:1-11 is canonical might swirl in your mind as you hear the text mentioned. Suffice it to say, being familiar with the story, whether that being from the numerous times hearing it or academically dissecting it, sometimes our eyes are closed to new revelations. Thankfully, God can force those eyes open as he so chooses.
I admit it. I was zoning out of chapel yesterday. What I described theoretically above was being actually done in my own heart. Yet, something happened at the end of the speaker’s sermon. Something about this text leapt out to me that I had never previously considered. Let me briefly remind you the story, then share my insight. I found it profound, and not because I thought it, but because I this the Spirit of God said it to me.
John 8:1-11 contains the story of a woman being caught in the act of adultery and then being dragged out to Jesus for questioning and, as the legalist’s wanted, death. She is placed before Jesus and the religious leaders begin the accusations. Following the accusations (which really weren’t accusations since they “caught he in the act”), they then hoped to trap Jesus. They wanted Jesus to choose between affirming the religious leaders, thereby losing the following of the people, or openly denying Scripture, losing everything even his life as a heretic. Their trap failed. Jesus replied brilliantly saying, “You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The men walked away, beginning with the old men. On a side note, these wise men were first to drop their stones because somehow we who are young struggle to see our own prolific sinful abilities. At the end of this ad hoc trial, Jesus says, “Woman, where are your accusers?” She sees none, and then hears Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
What phenomenal grace. We all have been caught in sin and are being condemned by our enemy, Satan. We who are hidden in Christ hear Jesus say, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” How humiliating it had to be for that woman to be caught “in the act.” I’m willing to bet many of us have been caught “in the act” of something, and have been utterly shamed. But, to hear someone forgive us as Jesus did had to be incredibly life altering for that woman. Tradition suggests that woman may have been Mary Magdalene. What a change!
Well, that was not my new insight I wanted to share. Here is my insight. The woman was caught in the act of adultery, not out in the streets hoping to find Jesus. Sure, it’s possible she was aware of her own precarious position in life. She may have well been unhappy, and shamed. Yet, the fact of the matter is this: she was engaged in an activity, not seeking Jesus, much less forgiveness. She was dragged to Jesus. She didn’t want to be publicly outed. I struggle to put into words what I’m really trying to emphasize right now. This woman seemingly was going along on her own way of life. It would be different if they accusers said, “This woman came to the temple to confess her gross sins, and after confessing she committed adultery, we feel she should be killed.” She wasn’t trying to confess. But, that didn’t matter to Jesus, did it?
Jesus granted this woman forgiveness despite the fact she wasn’t looking for it. Jesus’ work of grace and forgiveness extended to her despite the fact she didn’t ask for it. Jesus just loved her. Jesus loves sinners. Paul writes “God demonstrated his own love for us in this, while we were sinners Christ died.” Christ came to save us without us wanting him to come save us. That doesn’t mean we don’t want him now. I emphatically want Jesus. I want Jesus more today than yesterday as I’m more aware of my failures. But, that knowledge came after already being forgiven.
What does it mean for the world that this woman was not looking for Jesus yet was already forgiven by Jesus? Is it possible Jesus’ grace and mercy is not dependent upon our seeking him? I have no answers here, only open questions. But, I do think Jesus is that amazingly good, gracious and loving. What do you think?