So many stories have been told. It is difficult to pick one. There is the story where he calmed the raging sea by speaking a few words. Or when he healed a group of courageous leapers who mixed with the general public to get what they wanted. Or that incident when he raised his friend Lazarus from death. Remarkable moments! But I remember best the time an angry group of church leaders dragged a woman into the temple to confront him, because I was there.
That day Jesus was teaching at the temple in Jerusalem. A few dozen of us were sitting around him, some propped against a pillar or the wall, listening and trying to take in what he was talking about. He said words that no one else, who was sane, said, like: “I am the light of the world.”
I recall trying to process Jesus’ words when all of a sudden there was a commotion—some Scribes and Pharisees interrupted. I tensed up and froze. It was frightening! There were harsh sounds of anger and threats and looks of defiance as these important men shoved a woman in front of them. At my first glance of her I could see that her clothing had been torn in two places around her knees and the garment was covered with fresh dust and stains of dirt. The heels of her palms were scratched with spots of blood. Looking at her face I registered panic and terror. Tears had left jagged streaks on her cheeks where they dried. And, it looked as if she was bruised from being hit; there was a small open gash above her left eye. Now though, she was past crying, yet still given to trembling as she stood there awaiting her fate. One of the older Pharisees grabbed the back of her head with a fist full of her long auburn hair and pushed her towards Jesus. Then he got right into the face of Jesus and spit an accusation, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery! The Law of Moses says to stone her! What do you say?”
Well, Jesus didn’t immediately say anything. It felt to me like he was being set up. It was touchy. Instead of answering, Jesus knelt down and wrote something on the ground. The Pharisees and scribes kept acting upset and kept pressing Jesus for an answer. After a long minute Jesus slowly stood up—I thought I heard him sigh. He looked into the eyes of each of them and said, “Fine, stone her. And I’ll tell you what, let the ones who have never sinned throw the first stones.”
When Jesus said this there was a stunned silence among the leaders of our religion. It dawned on me that what Jesus had done was turn the whole frightening state of affairs back on them. Jesus completely exposed their hypocrisy. Almost no one ever dared to talk to Scribes or Pharisees like this without suffering grim consequences. But Jesus did and then he bent down once more to write on the ground.
The older Pharisee, the one who got right up in the face of Jesus, took a step back and dropped the stone he held onto the ground. Then the others in the group followed his lead.
I notice eyes once more. The woman’s eyes filled with fresh tears. The Scribes and Pharisees still flashed contempt with their eyes. But Jesus took time to look up at each of them with love, compassion, and forgiveness in his eyes.
One by one the woman’s accusers walked away. Whatever they had hoped to accomplish didn’t happen.
The woman stood there, all alone, still shaky. Jesus asked her gently, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
In a thin, exhausted, parched and nearly inaudible voice she answered, “No Lord.”
“Well,” Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either, go, but don’t sin anymore.” With that she turned and walked away, too.
I’ve wondered what became of her? As I sat there watching her walk away it came to me that I also am in need of this forgiveness Jesus offered her.
Jesus turned back to us and continued his teaching where he left off—“I am the light of the world.”