How often do you throw stones? Metaphorically, if not literally? Stoning was the prescribed punishment for adulterers in the Old Testament, so, in a way, those who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, saying she should be stoned were quite correct (see John 8:1-11). Yet … were they? To begin with, both the references I have found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy refer to both the adulterer and the adulteress being stoned. It was a means to purge the evil from the community, which could hardly be done if only one of the guilty parties were killed. So why bring only the woman? If she was caught in the act, presumably the man was present as well. Where is he? It is also interesting that the scribes and pharisees tell Jesus that in the law such women should be stoned. Again, why just the woman? Another question is why are they bringing her to Jesus? There was no necessity for him to pass judgement before they could stone her; he may have been a teacher but, as far as I am aware, there is no suggestion that he had any legal authority. John’s gospel does answer this question for us: they were trying to trap Jesus in order to accuse him. They must have known that he wouldn’t automatically uphold the law; did he have the reputation for standing up for those whom society condemned?
But by bringing the woman before Jesus and wanting an answer from him, they were giving him an authority of a kind; they were also using the woman. She may have sinned, but the authorities were still using her in order to trap Jesus for their own ends; and, where, I still ask, was the man? (I am assuming, in these circumstances, that the adultery was between a man and a woman). Was the woman ensnared in order to provide exactly these circumstances for trapping Jesus, and therefore the man was let go? Did the authorities just make use of a circumstance that occurred, and only caught the woman, as being of less importance? Or maybe the man got away, and couldn’t be identified. That is always a possibility; but I can’t help thinking that maybe the woman was more expendable, more easily used as a victim.
Now, it is clear that she had committed adultery, and, as the passage suggests, the punishment was stoning for both parties. Where I think they go astray is in making the woman the victim of their ploy to trap Jesus for their own ends. That is what is really going on here. Jesus makes it quite clear in his response that they are all guilty; none of those who dragged the woman before Jesus is prepared to claim that they are without sin; and that is all it would have taken. One person, prepared to stand before all the rest as sinless, to throw the first stone. Yet none of them do. They all go, leaving the woman standing before Jesus.
I think the woman hardly escapes without punishment. She is brought before Jesus at a time when he is teaching in the temple; there were crowds of people around him, and no doubt more attracted by what was going on. She was publicly denounced as an adulterer, shamed before a crowd of people, made to stand before Jesus as he pronounces her sentence. Which should have been stoning, but isn’t. Jesus was making a point about how we condemn people. But I wonder, too, if he is making a point about how we use people. The woman was an adulterer; the law prescribed a punishment for adultery, which didn’t involve dragging them into the temple, making them stand before crowds of people, publicly denouncing them and using them as a vehicle to condemn a popular teacher, for whatever reason they felt they needed to do that. The woman was a sinner; she was also a victim, used and even abused by those in authority for their own ends. Is Jesus’ response, in pointing out to those who brought her that they are not without sin, going even further? Is he standing up to their behaviour, refusing to fall into their trap, but also standing up for their victim, who (however guilty in one sense) had not deserved to be used in the way she had? Is he pointing out their use of the woman is not appropriate, whatever she had done? That, also, they are not keeping to the law, in stoning only one half of those caught in the act of adultery?
So, how often do you throw stones? Even metaphorical ones? and how often, in the throwing, are you shaming or using people for your own ends? – consciously or otherwise? How often in the throwing are you avoiding the fact of your own sin, by condemning sin in others? How often do you use simple labels to identify people, when the reality is likely to be more complex?