Me Neither: Jesus Draws His Line in the Sand

Draw A Line In The Sand
It seemed no matter how they tried to trap Jesus, he always managed to weasel out of being embarrassed in front of the crowds.

Attempts by these students and teachers of the law to expose his heretical teachings most often failed miserably. Nearly every time, he would turn their own interpretation of the Law against them, and public support of this revolutionary Rabbi and his gospel of grace continued to grow.

This time would be different. He would have to draw a line in the sand.

They caught her in the act of adultery.  She was a home wrecker, the seductress of a married man – a man whom the teachers of the Law knew well.  He regularly brought his tithes and offerings to the temple, and was a gentleman in good standing in the Jewish community.

No one could believe that he had taken advantage of the young girl – even though that’s what She kept saying.  She was scared.

Regardless, the Law permitted a stoning.  It even demanded it.

And just as their married friend had used her body for his pleasure, they would use her very life to trap this liberal Galilean and turn the crowd against his teachings of grace.

They threw her down into the dirt directly in front of Jesus, interrupting his sermon.

All eyes were on the Great Teacher.

She was crying and whimpering, each breath shorter than the last.  The men were smirking.

This time they’d trapped Jesus within the boundaries of the law.  The lines of this box were clear. The woman didn’t matter.  She was a whore.  She deserved death.

“The scripture clearly states that she should die, Jesus. What do you say?”

The God-man had already gotten on the ground next to the woman, posturing himself in alignment with this sinner. They kept pestering.

‘Well, what do you say?  Can we stone her or not!?!?’

Their question was not one of permission, but of partition.

They knew according to the law of Moses, they could stone her with a clear conscience.  That wasn’t the question.  The question was, would Jesus approve of her stoning? Or would he again overturn the Law in favor of grace?

They wanted Jesus to draw a clear line – a boundary – between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Between the sacred and the common.  The good and the bad.  Those that deserved death and those that did the killing in the name of God.

They wanted Jesus to draw a line in the sand.

They had hoped his public allegiance to the law would stop the crowds from following him. ‘In’ versus ‘Out’ was the very same gospel they themselves were preaching in the synagogues.

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Instead, Jesus flipped the Law on its head.  They should have seen it coming.

He drew in the dirt with his finger –  a line.  Jesus stood.

‘Whichever one of you has no sin, throw the first stone.  Let her have it.’

Jesus then stooped on the ground next to her, directly in the line of fire.  He reinforced his line in the sand.  If any would be so bold as to throw their stones of condemnation, they would have hit the Master Teacher, too.

The oldest realized it first.  Jesus wasn’t going to leave her side, even if it cost him his life.  He chose the side of the sinner.  The elder dismissively dropped his rock and turned around to walk away.  The others, one by one, followed.

The woman’s breathing had slowed down, her tears now falling from guilt and shame rather than fear.

She looked at Jesus, who was helping her stand on her feet.

‘Woman, where did they all go? Didn’t anyone condemn you?’

‘No one did, Lord.’

‘Me neither.’

But what about the ‘go and sin no more?’

Often we quote Jesus’ last words to the woman, ‘Go and sin no more.‘ We use this phrase as an opportunity to pounce upon the person with whom we disagree.

Here’s the kicker, though – Jesus said this after two very significant things took place. First, he risked both his reputation and his life. A a Rabbi, Jesus stopping the stoning of this woman caught in the act of adultery was him essentially and literally allowing compassion, mercy and love to have the authoritative word – even over the authority of scripture. He was indeed teaching a New Way – and it could have (and ultimately did) cost him his life. He stood alongside her, risking his reputation by being seen as WITH her…

In this way he ‘earned the right’ to speak to the woman. She would listen to the guy who just saved her life by risking his own, regardless of what he believed.

Second, and equally important, before ‘sharing the truth in love,’ Jesus made certain the woman knew that he did not condemn her. ‘Where are they? Didn’t anybody stay to condemn you?!?’ And here’s the punchline :: ‘Neither do I. From now on sin no more.’

Also interesting to note :: Could the woman have stopped sinning? Was this request from the Master Teacher even possible? Absolutely not. He didn’t call out her specific sin, and it’s likely that she messed up and missed the mark, even after this encounter with Jesus. And because of that…his words of ‘go and sin no more’ seem to not be the point of the passage; rather, the point is Jesus was willing to stand against the oppressors alongside the oppressed, even when she’d been caught red-handed ‘in the act’ of sin.

What about you?  Where do you draw your ‘line in the sand’?

Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ.  Michael worships and serves on staff as the Communications Director at Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, IL.

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About the Author

Michael Kimpan

Michael KimpanMichael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ.View all posts by Michael Kimpan →

  • 21st Century Episcopalian

    It’s both-and. Grace acceptance of ALL sinners AND a strong call to repentance. Can’t have one without the other.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. I love this story for precisely that reason.

      I think the key is to try and avoid condemnation of the individual while still naming the sin and calling it such. It’s also important to remember that Jesus is God and we’re not, and thus our judgement of a particular situation and individual might be a little less than omniscient.

  • tarl_hutch

    Beautiful illustration, my friend. Still very poignant reminder of where Jesus stands, for us, and what happens when we forget about grace. I particularly like your explanation of what should ideally happen when we share grace and truth with someone. So important to remember the right attitude with which we should approach the world. Great work.

  • Anonymous

    A fantastic example of Jesus overturning ancient Law and affirming the Greatest Commandment, no matter how politically incorrect it was to do so.

    • mike

      Jesus never overturned the law.

      • Anonymous

        Jesus didn’t overturn the law, he fulfilled it. I know, we as Christians say this all the time. But I do like the perspective embodied in this statement from the article: “As a Rabbi, Jesus stopping the stoning of this woman caught in the act of adultery was him essentially and literally allowing compassion, mercy and love to have the authoritative word – even over the authority of scripture.” If the law mandated punishment, and Jesus refused to punish, what word is better than “overturn” in this context? We just avoid using words because we’re afraid of the connotations people might assume. Perhaps we can say he overturned the punishment side of ancient law, but upheld the expectations of morality.

  • Frank

    It’s incorrect to imply that Jesus was in any way challenging the authority of scripture over some human principle of love. In fact just the opposite. Because scripture has ultimate authority, grace becomes possible. And yes He knew her sin and yes He told her to stop committing adultery.

    So yes grace is possilble but the goal is repentance and scripture still has ultimate authority.

    • 21st Century Episcopalian

      True. And as others have said, “Soft words create hard hearts”. The softy “love” talk rebelliously ignoring sin (with a wink and a nod) is impotent and doesn’t change hearts, culture, nor our world in general..

      The love of God is most brilliantly displayed by the completed act of judgment against sin displayed on the cross.

      And those whose hearts have truly been changed by the spiritual power of our Lord Jesus will not only adore Him, but will desire repentance as sanctification works its process from the inside out.

      • If Jesus died for my sins, he was definitely over-reacting.

        • 21st Century Episcopalian

          Not sure what you’re suggesting, Tony.

          • Frank

            I guess his sins are less than everyone else’s and God made a mistake.

          • 21st Century Episcopalian

            Maybe so. Odd comment from Tony.

          • Frank

            I guess his sins are less than everyone else’s and God made a mistake.

  • Drew

    People make this story hard to understand, mostly because they seek to twist this story to suit their own whims. This story is about grace and repentance, nothing more, nothing less. Grace is an undeserved gift of love, and that is what the woman received. Repentance is what should follow a gift of grace. This is a clear parallel to salvation, where we receive salvation as a gift of grace, and are called to repentance/sanctification.

    I don’t like much when people seek to downplay the grace aspect or the repentance aspect of this story. Jesus did not help the woman for the sake of helping the woman, and Jesus wasn’t a hard man that went around calling for everyone to repent without showing any love. This is a two-part story.

  • Ally

    The fact that Jesus as the one without sin could have thrown the stone but chose mercy, grace and forgiveness to the woman is such a powerful image of the gospel working in a single life. Put ourselves in that woman’s place and it changes the way we respond to others around us

  • akiva

    I love the point you are making. The intersting thing I have always taken away from this story is not just the mercy shown to the woman but the fact that Jesus did not point out the hypocrisy of the crowd. I am not talking about thier own sins but rather how they, the men, had shown mercy to the other person who commited adultry. According to the law both the woman and the man in the adultrous relationship are to be stoned not just the woman. So where was the man? The man was forgiven because surely he was caused to sin against his will. Maybe that is what they thought maybe not. But if it is what they thought, here we see an example of blaming of our or anothers person on someone else just use the excuse not my fault. The accusers in the story are accomplise in this by only accusing her. So I have always felt that Jesus was also forcing them to admit that they themselves were sinners but that the man who they provided mercy to by not trying to have him stoned was also a sinner. I know it is a stretch but since they were using the law to condem her turning the law back on them would have to make them realize that they were not truly following the law.

    • akiva

      here we see an example of blaming of our sins on anothers person on someone else just use the excuse it is not my fault*

    • rhondajo3

      And exactly what Muslims do with a woman caught in adultery, or even a woman who was raped. She is automatically the guilty one. There is no grace nor forgiveness in Islam.

  • This pericope, depending upon your scholarship, was removed from the Eastern gospels, or inserted into the Western ones. The lesson is necessary, of course, but its provenance is uncertain.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great retelling of one of the best stories of Jesus in action…

  • Martin

    I think the words, ‘go sin no more’ are very important. I see in this story a woman robbed of her dignity. I wonder that some of those men so ready to cull were the same men who brought her to degradation and ruin. The second great commandment speaks and tells, “LOVE your neighbor as YOUR SELF.”

    Self respect, self worth, dignity as a human being and child of God. ‘Sin’ comes from ‘sine’ which means ‘without’. To ‘sin’ – to act without love for the self or the other as commanded – to dehumanise, to degrade. I think when Jesus looks at these men, drawing the line in the sand, He is really looking at them, silently – that look letting them know He knows who and what some of them may have done, who they truly might be. He calls them on their utter hypocrisy.

    Then puts out His hand to help the woman rise to new life – new dignity, a new beginning where she might ‘sin’ no more. Go forward into a life where she will nolonger be degraded or allow degradation of her self or the other. To hear and obey the great commandment. Jesus gives her back her innocence in a sense. Restoring her spirit to its natural beauty, and her perhaps in seeing this, has the real power for her to go forward with confidence and love. To be ‘without sin’ – without love, no more, for her self, any other or God.

    That’s partly what I see in that story. She wasn’t ‘just a whore’. She was a woman robbed by the ‘men of God’ of her very dignity as a human being, woman and child of God. Sister of Jesus. Defending her as a sister as well as a child of the Father.

    Emptied vessels are more readily and fully filled. Sinning much – loving much. Mercy greater than justice, and had justice been served, those men would have had their nuts cracked.

    No, I think this was more than a woman who was ‘just a whore’.

    Just another perspective.

  • Saved

    To the point of Jesus writing in the sand, I’ve heard the theory that perhaps he was writing out the sins of the woman’s accusers, therefore one by one, as they read their own sins in the sand – they left – knowing they were hypocrites.

  • douglas

    Was the line that our Lord drew straight?

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