Summary: When the Pharisees bring a woman caught in the act of adultry before Jesus we see their Accusation and Jesus’ Acquittal.
by Scott Bayles
Following Jesus part 2
Following Jesus to Court
Victoria Ruvolo was on her way home late one November evening when she crossed paths with a car-full of punks on a joyride in a gray Nissan. She probably never saw it coming. One of the juvenile delinquents—who had already broken into a car, stolen a credit card and used it to buy a bag full of groceries—sticks his head out the window of their car and flings a twenty pound frozen turkey toward Victoria Ruvolo’s on-coming vehicle, sending it crashing through the windshield and crushing every bone in Victoria’s face.
Victoria would spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in Stony Brook University Hospital as her face is surgically pieced back together. Nine months later, Victoria would finally confront her attacker, Ryan Cushing…in a courtroom. The young man would plead guilty, but would only be sentenced to a meager six months in prison and five years probation. The reason? Victoria begged the courts for leniency. After the trial was over Victoria approached the young man, embraced him as he wept, and whispered softly, “I forgive you.”
We aren’t accustomed to seeing such mercy and grace in a courtroom. We’re more familiar with the scenes of shouting, swearing, and slandering we see on The People’s Court, Judge Judy, or Divorce Court, where neighbors, co-workers, friends and family all accuse each other and publicly malign one another on national television. Words like mercy and grace are foreign to most courtroom settings.
Yet, the experience of Victoria Ruvolo is reminiscent of an event in the life of Christ when Jesus was asked to take the bench and pass judgment on an nameless sinner. This is how the Bible describes it:
Early the next morning [Jesus] returned to the temple courtyard. All the people went to him, so he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of everyone and asked Jesus, “Teacher, we caught this woman in the act of adultery. In his teachings, Moses ordered us to stone women like this to death. What do you say?” (John 8:2-5 GW)
The teachers of the Law had promoted themselves to keepers of the Law, the Pharisees declared themselves prosecutors, and together they presented their case to Jesus, whom they were hoping would nominate himself Judge.
I. The Accusation:
This anonymous woman was dragged naked into the Temple court. As was the case with Ryan Cushing, there was little question of her guilt. The Bible says they “caught this woman in the act of adultery” (vs. 4). She was in the throws of passion with a man who was not her husband when the authorities stormed into her bedroom. One or both of them were already married to someone else. The Bible doesn’t call this an “open marriage” or an “extra-marital affair.” The Bible calls it what it is—adultery.
No matter what their ulterior motives were, the Pharisees were right about one thing. The Law said, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die” (Deut. 22:22 NIV). Even though her partner is suspiciously missing, that would not change the fact of her guilt—nor her sentence. She was guilty and the Pharisees had made it their job to see to her public disgrace, shame, and death.
Perhaps she was sorry for her sin. Maybe she was ashamed. She might have even been set up for that matter—after all the Pharisees were “using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing” Jesus (vs. 6 NIV). But none of that mattered to them. As in modern courtrooms, words like mercy and grace were foreign to them.
So there she stood—naked and ashamed for all to see.
Can you sympathize with the woman caught in adultery? I can. I got married when I was just nineteen years old. I married against the advise of close friends, family, pastors, and counselors—and, believe it or not, against my own better judgment. Our relationship was unstable before we were even engaged. I knew that this was not the person God had prepared for me, but I didn’t care. I, perhaps like this woman, was going to live my own life and make my own decisions.
When a Christ-follower stops following Christ, like I did, we make ourselves vulnerable to Satan. We become like a crippled lamb limping far behind the rest of the flock with the Devil prowling around like a roaring lion. I began catering to my sinful nature (as did my wife at the time) and early into my ministry I was going through a divorce almost as ugly as the marriage itself had been. Over the next few months I would meet several times with the shepherds of my congregation, confessing my failings, sins, and shame and trying to think of a way to restore what seemed hopelessly lost.