On a day with clear blue sky and the sun shining brightly, Jerusalem was bustling as usual. In one corner of the temple a crowd gathered around Jesus who was preaching. Suddenly a group of religious leaders cut through the crowd and placed a woman before Jesus. Her head was down but they all knew who she was. The religious leaders, dressed to demand respect, declared gravely, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” The spectators turned quiet, holding their breath to see what would happen next. Some thought with disdain, “Why bring this woman here to defile the temple?” Others might feel sorry for the woman that she was caught while her man had fled. Anyway, all eyes now turned from the woman to Jesus.
Jesus knew that the religious leaders were not seeking justice but to pose a dilemma for Him: To apply Moses’ law of stoning without a public trial would go against the Roman law as well as risking criticism that He was heartless and merciless. But if the woman was let go He would be accused of not following the Law and being too lenient. Jesus appeared trapped when people just saw Him writing on the ground with His finger and making no response. Only after prompting did Jesus finally straightened up and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” His words seemed to have some special power. After a moment of silence the crowd began to disperse one at a time, the older ones first. Some commented that Jesus’ words made the religious leaders feel awfully ashamed: they appeared to be models of righteousness but their hearts were filled with morbid hatred because they did not really want to deal with this adultery but to set a death trap for Jesus. The rest of the people probably felt unworthy of carrying out the punishment and so they all left in shame. However, the main point of the story is not about the bystanders but the woman. In the end Jesus straightened up and asked the woman on purpose, “Has no one condemned you?” And the woman answered, “No one.” “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. Now some may think, ‘This is ridiculous! Is Jesus’ forgiveness so cheap? Letting a sinner go so easily, having no regard to any rule or law!
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How wrong to think so. This woman received forgiveness when she had paid the price fully.
When Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” He was reminding the woman that there was now nobody else and wondered why she was still standing there. Generally speaking, if the accusers had gone the accused could just leave. But the woman stayed because her ‘person’ was twisted by sin and if she just left she would be leaving with a damaged ‘person’. She would return to her old life and her damaged ‘person’ would accompany her to the grave.
This woman might have heard this Rabbi teaching with authority before and saw His healing and deliverance, so she decided to risk all and face the last One who could execute judgment on her by stoning. She stayed so that she could deal with her problem. Therefore she had paid the full price for her sins and Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness was not an easy grace. Jesus had not exposed her shame by asking her to repeat her sordid past. And she brought her damaged ‘person’ before the Lord and laid it before Him unreservedly, and in return she was healed by Jesus. He said to her, “Then neither do I condemn you”. The damaged ‘person’ received acceptance because she insisted on staying and having communion with the Lord. Only in this communion and connection with the Lord will His forgiveness be upon her. Furthermore, Jesus gave her a new direction in life telling her, “Leave your life of sin.” He affirmed her ‘hypostasis’ * so that she may embark on a brand new phase in life.
How can a person go in peace if he only acts as he wishes, refuses to have communion with the Lord and carries on in life with a damaged ‘person’ passed down from Adam? The only way out for our ‘being’ is to be granted forgiveness, acceptance and edification while we maintain communion with the Lord.
* ‘hypostasis’ was originally taken to mean ‘being’, then it took up the meaning of ‘person’ in the context of trinity.
Dr. Jason Hing-Kau Yeung is the principle of Canadian Chinese School of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.