How many times have we seen a crowd of men, young and old, eager to judge – and condemn – a single woman for their own sins?
It’s just another scene from tomorrow’s headlines. In fact it’s so familiar, we don’t even notice it.
These panels of dour old men with judgment in their eyes sending down solemn pronouncements upon women have become an icon of our time.
From the Sanhedrin, to the Salem witch trials to the Taliban to grim Congressional hearings, we seem to have no shortage of men eager to claim ultimate authority over a woman’s life – or rights.
But where is the man who would stand as Christ did? The one who would challenge the bland, anonymous cowardice and say, when they, in their brief and passing moment of shame finally showed some decency and honor and refused to implicate themselves in this, or any judgment, “Did no one judge you? Neither do I”?
We can picture this dusty Biblical scenario, with men clothed in their robes and indignation, ready, even eager, to kill the symbol, object, perhaps even fantasy, of the sin they each carry.
Public humiliation and judgment is not enough, grace is too weak, and forgiveness too limp for this group poised to murder in the name of their own faltering – and apparently threatened righteousness. They have much to hide – and protect.
This woman ‘caught in adultery’ was, of course, not caught alone, but with a man, perhaps in the crowd, or certainly, in a town this small, known by them – but either way not judged as she would be.
Which only adds to their determination to kill the witness to their own weakness.
And in their fury, they come upon Jesus.
He too, like the woman, is a living reminder of their distance from God – and their own humanity.
“What would you do?” they ask, “with this woman caught in the very act of sinning?” Hoping to judge him as well as her (John 8:6).
You can almost feel the weight of their rage bear down on his shoulders as he confronts them by not confronting them.
He bends down, reaching for the earth, finding, in some sense, a grounding for their wrath.
He draws, doodles or writes, perhaps it doesn’t matter, but he does buy time, and his seemingly idle motions, hold more of God than they have – or have probably seen before.
The silence is tangible. But their impatience wins out – “Well, what would you do?”
Jesus rises, and like a student who knows more than the teacher, agrees with them – almost.
Yes, he seems to say, God’s justice is fierce, but it is also fair; only one who has not sinned, only one who is innocent can judge the guilty.
He bends down again, reaching as if for some sanity or sense of decency somewhere on the face of the earth.
We can picture these men, pulsing with justice and self-justification as their pride is deflated and they see the wilted woman as wronged, more than wrong and themselves more like murderers than the hand of a merciful God they thought they followed.
And this simple man, in his dust and silence has more to say of God’s presence than their slogans and menacing threats.
The crowd drifts off, from oldest to youngest, until Jesus stands again, almost surprised, as he sees no one there – except the woman.
“Where are those so eager to judge you?” he seems to ask; was there no one ‘good enough’?
“No one” she says (John 8:11).
“Go and sin no more” Jesus tells her, knowing that it is mercy, not judgment, that keeps every one of us from sin.
In this New Testament story, we, as always it seems, have before us the choice between being right, or even being religious, and being like Jesus.
I’ll take Jesus every time.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.