As the sun rose a faint glow appeared through the small gap beneath the door. A man waited inside the house. He heard a knock. It was the signal; it was time and he was ready. He grabbed his cloak, exited, and made his way to the designated meeting place. There was already a group of men present, huddled together and engrossed in secretive conversation.
He noted their tense excitement. He felt his own heartbeat quicken and willed himself to calm. This was not going to be an enjoyable mission. He told himself it was a necessary evil, a way to handle two problems at once, to kill two birds with one stone.
The first bird was the easier prey. She was defenseless—but not sinless. No, she was not sinless. He knew her well; they were cousins and grew up together. She used to know how to make him smile with her light laugh and mischievous temperament, but not anymore. She had disgraced their family. She was an adulteress and her actions disgusted him. She made a mockery of their faith, their God and their laws. She deserved her fate.
The group of men received the go ahead and began to move. He had the plan memorized. They would arrive at his cousin’s house, enter the bedroom and catch her with her lover. The law clearly stated they needed to witness the indiscretion to render judgement, and her judgement would be swift. From her bedroom she would be dragged directly to the temple courts and there she would meet her judge: Jesus.
Jesus—he was bird number two. He was a self-proclaimed prophet amassing followers who considered him to be the long awaited Messiah and savior of the Jewish people. However the legitimate Jewish leaders were not fans. Jesus was riling the status quo and deceiving the people. He needed to be stopped.
That’s why their plan was so brilliant, even if it did start with his cousin. They would take her to Jesus for judgement. The fate of an adulteress under Jewish law was death. But Roman law ruled the land, and Roman law did not allow the Jews the right to execute her. So, Jesus would have to choose: follow the Jewish law of their people or submit to the Romans. Either choice had dire consequences. The trap was set, ready to snare both birds.
The first part of the plan was carried out flawlessly. His cousin was caught in her sin, brought to the temple and thrown before Jesus. “Teacher” they said, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say” (vv. 4-5)? They waited for his answer. Jesus did not appear to be caught up in their urgency. Instead he casually reached for a stick and started to draw in the sand. The men grew restless, yet Jesus did not answer. The men continued to accuse the woman. They got angrier. Several men bent down to pick up stones. They demanded a verdict from Jesus.
“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’” (v. 7).
The man looked at his cousin, she was silently weeping. For the first time in months he was able to look at her face, into her eyes, and he felt something unexpected—compassion. Some of the older men in the crowd turned away and left. He looked around, one by one the others followed suit. He thought about Jesus’ question. Was he without sin? Normally he could gloss over his own little flaws, but today, in the presence of Jesus they loomed large and menacing. He recognized the dark areas of his heart and realized he held a stone in his own hand. He had been ready to throw it and murder his own cousin. He looked down, ashamed, dropped the stone and walked away.
“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:34.
From the series, “Jesus: Friend of Sinners” Copyright 2016 Sara Nelson O’Brien.
With special thanks to The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition (Copyright 1995 by Zondervan Publishing House) study notes (p. 1608).