The Gospels detail Jesus’ encounters with hundreds of different people. He instructs tremendous crowds, debates with scholarly religious leaders, and is even presented before powerful political rulers. He heals the sick, forgives the sinner, and calms the storm. However, of all the tales of Jesus’ interactions, none has struck me as powerfully as that of the woman caught in adultery.

Her story is recorded in John 8:1-11:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives,  but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

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Now you may have read this story hundreds of times. You may have heard a sermon on it, or acted it out in your Sunday school class. You may have “sin no more” on your favorite coffee cup, or you might have copied a verse or two into a Facebook rant about not judging others. But I also know that no matter how many times I encounter it, I always leave it amazed. More than any other interaction of Jesus, this one confounds me, commands me, and convicts me. I could probably write about ten sermons, thirty poems, and a doctoral dissertation on the last verse alone. But this is just a Blog post, so I won’t. For now, I just want to share three simple things that the Lord has shown me through my recurrent affair with the story of the woman caught in adultery.

I may never know what and why Jesus was writing in the sand.

If I can remember it, this will probably be the first question I ask when I get to heaven. It’s just bizarre to me that in the middle of this chaotic scene (men yelling, the woman crying, stones being raised) that Jesus just squats down to do some Messianic doodling. What was He drawing/writing? Why did He pick that moment to do so? What did everyone else think of this bizarre action? I have never understood and likely will never entirely understand Jesus’ motivations in that moment. But the good news is, I don’t have to. All I know is that whether He was sending secret messages, sketching the Pharisees, or playing a game of hangman, His actions served an important purpose: it gained everyone’s attention. In that moment of sand scribbling, all eyes were on Jesus, eagerly awaiting His response. This attention served two vital roles: a.) it drew attention away from the woman, and b.) nobody missed Jesus’ words. Firstly, in taking attention from the woman, Jesus showed great mercy. This poor accused woman had been caught, shamed, and was likely cowering in the dirt, naked and afraid. But for one moment, her accusers had forgotten her and had eyes only for Jesus. That must have been a welcome shift, though the situation was still horrifying. Secondly, Jesus’ response to the situation was mind-blowing. I don’t think anyone (least of all the woman) saw it coming. Yet, no one could argue against His reasoning. Jesus needed every single person to hear His words and take them swiftly to heart. That was the only way for the situation to be truly resolved and the lesson taught.

At some point in my life, I have and will continue to identify with every character in this story.

For me, the tale of the adulterous woman has often acted as a mirror. Not because I have a predilection towards adulterous affairs or for stoning sinful women, but because the emotions and motivations of each character are distinctively human and impeccably familiar. All of us, myself included, have been in the position of the adulterous woman, unable to look into the face of Jesus due to overwhelming guilt and shame. And though we would not hasten to admit it, each of us has also probably hoisted stones at others, like the angry crowd, yearning for their failure or humiliation. But Jesus cares for us anyway. When we are overcome with shame, He banishes our accusers and lifts us back onto our feet. When we root for the disappointment of others, He corrects us and urges us to adopt a fresh perspective. We are humans and we aren’t perfect. But thank the Lord, we have a Jesus that will meet us where we are, regardless. 

“Go & sin no more…”

This is a powerful statement and a powerful act of forgiveness. However, more than that, this is a commission. Jesus has just changed this woman’s life. He forgave her of a heinous sin that had almost cost her everything. He was literally the only reason she was still breathing. I cannot even begin to imagine what must have been going through her mind, as Jesus charged her to move on with her life and “sin no more.” I see her story as a beautiful picture of the Gospel. She deserved to die because of her sin, but Jesus stepped in. He forgave her of her guilt and gave her a chance at a new life. I often wonder if this woman was at the cross, and how that might have affected her (but that is a question for another day). For now, I simply praise the Lord that Jesus was willing to step in for my life as well.

So there you have it. You’ve read the story of the adulterous woman once again. However, I hope that this time, you might be leaving it with a fresh perspective and a new directive: thank God for forgiveness through Jesus, and “go and sin no more.”

UMHB’s Baptist Student Ministry is dedicated to providing ministries and opportunities that allow students to grow in Christ, give in service, and go into the world to share the love of Jesus. We invite to visit our website for more information on how to get plugged in with our BSM!