The woman’s screams could be heard throughout the neighborhood. Ah, so it begins.
Word had gotten around the city—as such stories did in such times and places—that there would be a confrontation that morning between the Temple leaders and the man whom his followers referred to as the prophet. Some said that this time the leadership had the perfect situation with which to trap the imposter. Others, although not expressing such views openly, claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed a prophet of God, and that try as they might, the religious establishment would fail to trip him up.
But regardless of viewpoint, the fickle hearts of the people allowed curiosity to overcome good sense, and the crowd which had gathered in the Temple that morning was huge.
Some had come—openly, honestly—to hear the rabbi teach. His reputation preceded him. Not only could the man mesmerize crowds with his messages, but he was known to perform incredible acts of healing, overcome demons, and restore unbalanced minds to sanity. The negative reaction of the legal teachers and Pharisees of the Temple had also become gossip fodder: the city seemed on the brink of the most volatile uproar the region had ever seen.
There were details of this story which defy reason. It was those very religious leaders who were at the center of the melee involving the screaming woman. They had actually gone into the private rooms where she was, evidently, engaged in the act of adultery. How the religious leaders knew where to go, or what the situation was, is not revealed. We can only guess at the unsavory possibilities: perhaps one of their own was the man with whom the woman lay; it may have been a paid informant who spurred the Pharisees to action.
But here they came, dragging the now silent and humiliated woman to the feet of Jesus, literally interrupting his teaching that morning.
There was an audible murmuring among the watching crowd, but the voice of the pious ring-leader rang out above the buzz: “Teacher, we’ve just caught this woman in the very act of adultery!”
We can see the self-righteous, smug expression on the face of the accuser as he looked around the crowd, seeking approval. Only from his cohorts was his support visible. On the faces of those who had gathered to hear Jesus he read a range of emotions: surprised annoyance at the interruption; disbelief that the Temple leaders would so disrupt the holy place by dragging a sinning woman there to be gawked at and scorned; embarrassment and pity for the helpless woman who obviously was alone and forsaken by a supposed lover; piqued curiosity at what the Master might now do in the face of the obviously treacherous accusers.
“You’re familiar with the Law, teacher,” the man spoke in a silkily respectful tone. “Moses commanded that such a woman is to be stoned. There is no question that she is guilty, for we found her in the very act. So, what do you say? Should she be stoned, as Moses decreed?” Mentally rubbing his hands together in raw and obscene expectation, the man awaited Jesus’ verdict.
But Jesus was silent.
Calm in the face of this obvious trap, Jesus stooped down and began writing with his finger in the dirt of the Temple courtyard. Necks craned to see what was written. The accusers’ circle drew closer and continued questioning him. Still he remained silent, his finger marking the dust.
Then Jesus stood. “All right,” he nodded. “I’ll leave it to you: if any one of you is completely without sin, you may throw the first stone at her.”
And again he stooped and began writing in the courtyard dirt.
Imagine how quiet it got then! And then the small sound of a “thud” as a stone dropped softly from the hand of an accuser, and he crept away in shame. Another “thud” followed, then another. The murmur of the watching crowd began again as the disgraced Temple leaders disappeared—one by one, the eldest first. When they had all retreated, Jesus straightened up and spoke tenderly to the woman at his feet.
“Well, look around! Do you see anyone accusing you now? Is anyone condemning you?”
In a voice trembling with surprise and gratitude, she replied, “There’s no one, sir.”
“And I don’t condemn you either, my friend. Only, go now, and reject the life of sin you’ve been living.”
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