Gospel: John 8:1-11

Sinless in the Eyes of God

Who is the most honorable person you know? Why is this person so honorable?

What makes a person honorable? Great deeds and great commitments? Wisdom and humility? Trustworthiness and compassion? A great reputation? There are these and many other ways to define an honorable person. Striving for the right. The right way to act. The right way to live. This person is the opposite of the sinner.

What turns a sinner into an individual of honor? Presented with a sinner, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the honorable leaders of his community. And he gave the possibility of change to the sinner with a simple twist in his point of view.

Popular Translation

After Jesus taught the crowd, everyone went home.

1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early the next morning, Jesus arrived at the Temple. The people crowded around him. So he sat down and began to teach them. 3 Suddenly, the religious leaders brought a woman who was found being unfaithful to her husband. They stood her before everyone. 4 Then they said to Jesus, "Teacher, we caught this woman doing something that broke God's Law! She was being unfaithful to her husband. In God's Law, Moses told us to stone such women to death. What do you say we should do?" 6 They said this to pressure Jesus so he might say something they could use against him. But, Jesus bent over and wrote in the sand with his finger. 7 They kept asking him over and over.

So, Jesus straightened up and said, "Let the person who has never broken God's Law throw the first stone at her." 8 Again, Jesus bent over and wrote in the sand. 9 One by one, starting with the leaders, everyone who heard Jesus answer walked away. Soon, only Jesus and the woman were left. 10 So Jesus straightened up. "Madame, isn't there anyone here who says you're guilty?"

11 "No one," the woman responded.

12 "Well, I don't say you're guilty either," Jesus told her. "Go your way. But don't break the Law again."

Challenged with a test, Jesus turned popular logic on its head. Those who condemned were dishonorable. While the sinner was offered a change at honor.

Literal Translation

(After Jesus taught the crowd, everyone went home.)

1 But Jesus journeyed to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn, HE arrived at the Temple. The people approached HIM, and, having sat, HE taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman having been caught in adultery. Standing her in (their) midst, 4 they said to HIM, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in a self-chosen act of committing adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such (women). So, what do YOU say?" 6 Pressuring him, they said this so that they might have (a basis) to accuse HIM. But Jesus, bent down, was writing with his finger in the dirt. 7 As they remained asking HIM, HE straightened up and said to them, "Let the sinless among throw the first stone." 8 Again, bent down, he was writing on the earth. 9 Those hearing (HIM) went away, one by one, having begun with the elders. HE was left alone, the woman being in (his) midst. 10 Straightening up, JESUS said to her, "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?" 11 She said "No one." JESUS said, "I do not condemn you (either). Go. From now (on) no longer sin."

8:3-4 The woman in the story was married, but had relations with another man. We can make this assumption on two grounds. First, the Torah only lists adultery as one married person having relations with another who was not the spouse. The non-married did not violate these tenets of the Law. Second, a wife was considered to be the property of her husband without rights of her own. Relations with another man, even if woman was raped, shamed the husband. To vindicate his honor, the man could have his wife stoned in public. The Greek suggests the woman willingly committed the act. So, in the eyes of the accusers, she deserved the punishment under the Law.

8:7 According to Deuteronomy 17:6-7, the witnesses to the crime were throw the first stones, as a means to finish their accusations. The Law required two or more witnesses to support an accusation. Jesus added a condition to the Law, the sinless accusers could throw the first stone. Of course, that was impossible. Since no one could keep the Law perfectly, no one could be the perfect (sinless) witness. Sinners accusing others of sin was the height of hypocracy.

8:10 "Woman" is a title of respect in Semite cultures.

In this beautiful story, the Pharisees challenged Jesus with a moral dilemma. The Jewish leaders pitted the fulfillment of God's Law (tradition) against compassion (present need). If Jesus chose fulfillment of the Law, he would be seen as cold-hearted in the eyes of those he ministered to: the sinners. But, if he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the Law and was "soft on" immorality; the general populace would renounce him and the leaders would have sufficient grounds to prosecute him. This was a tight "open and shut" case for the Pharisees and a losing situation for Jesus.

But Jesus chose an unexpected middle route; he acted apathetic by doodling on the ground and turned the question back on them. The doodling may refer to a Greek text of Jeremiah 17:13: "...may those who turn away from the Lord be written on the earth..." The names of the saved, as the ancients believed, would be written in heaven. [6]

By giving the sinless permission to carry out the Law, Jesus caught the Pharisees at their own game. To throw a stone at this point would be the sin of pride. The persecutors would have the audacity to act in God's place; this would be blasphemous in the eyes of the people, since no one was without sin. No wonder the elders left first in shame! [7-9]

Possibly the greatest irony of the story could be found in the adulterous woman. The woman, caught in the act, stood before Jesus un-judged; that would be the way Jesus would leave the woman. Without judgment, the charge of sin could not be leveled against her, she was truly "sinless" in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus simply told her not to sin again. [10-11]

(This story has been controversial, not in content, but in place. Remove these passages, and John 7:14-8:57 flows smoothly. Some manuscripts place this narrative at the end of Luke. Regardless where the narrative was placed, the Church has always recognized it as canonical. The beauty of the passage and the message were uniquely Christian even from the earliest times.)

Catechism Theme: The Sixth Commandment and Chastity

Instead of condemning the woman, Jesus invited her to return to a sinless life, a life of honor. Her sin was adultery. Her duty not to sin again was more than avoiding a situation of temptation. She was to become chaste.

The woman sinned against the sixth commandment. What does the sixth commandment teach us? The sixth commandment teaches us that love is the basic duty for everyone. Jesus tells us to love God above everything else, and to love others as ourselves, whether they are male or female. The equality of love calls us to respect others' dignity and to accept ourselves, especially own sexual identity. (2392, 2393)

Jesus invited her to return to a chaste life. What is "chastity? Chastity is the virtue of self-control in sexual matters. Because sexuality includes our psychological, physical, moral, and social worlds, chastity helps us to integrate these areas in a healthy way. Chastity is more than saying "no" to sexual thoughts or desires; chastity points to the goal of sexual expression, the lifelong commitment of marriage. Everyone is called to live a chaste life, whether married or not. (2394, 2395, 2394)

Have you ever known someone who changed their life around? From the sinner to the honorable person? What caused the change?

How many times have we stood "sinless" before the Lord? How many times could we claim honor in the eyes of God? Never? Our past might condemn us, but before God we are innocent. Like the woman in the passage, we stand without sin if we are willing to receive the gift of grace. For, only faith in God's grace convinces us that the Father will allow us to be free from sin. We have honor before him, but only as his children. Let us revel in that place of honor he has graciously bestowed on us.

In what areas of your life are overly critical? How can you see these areas through God's eyes? How does this change in view affect your view of life?