Caught in the Act
He shows her that social justice is but a tear in the vast ocean of G-d’s eternal justice.
An examination of Yochanan/John 8:1-11
While it’s true that no early manuscripts include this account, it is equally true to say that it is more than likely a legitimate oral or written tradition passed on by the first century Ecclesia/Church, and included by later scribes—it’s sometimes found in Luke’s gospel.
I believe that the Ruach Ha-Koodesh/Holy Spirit testifies to the authenticity of this story. Therefore, in keeping with the teaching of Messiah, I trust myself to the unity of Scripture and power, and consider this account to be scripture, inspired by G-d and passed on to us for good purpose. It seems to me that the Yeshua of this story is the Yeshua of the wider body of New Testament writing. He is here, unmistakable, the teacher of Israel, full of compassion, mercy, tenacity and chutspah. His feet firmly planted on the ground and His Spirit drawing wisdom from the heavens.
I invite you to put away the conjecture of scholarship and instead to embrace the incomparable Messiah of Israel. The story of the young woman caught in adultery is one of His most powerfully intimate public moments.
“Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.”
This event took place early, probably prior to Sacharit (Morning Prayer). Yeshua sat down to teach in the court of women as was the custom of other rabbis of the time. This is unlikely to refer to the court of the Gentiles. We know this because those coming to Him were of the “tribes” of Israel, the collected Jewish pilgrims who had made aliyah for the festival of Sukkot. Keep in mind that the Jewish day had begun after the previous sundown and would continue to be the seventh day of Sukkot until after sundown that evening. Therefore, Sh’mini Atzeret (the eighth day Sabbath following Sukkot proper was yet to occur).
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.”
The first question many ask is, “If she was caught in the act, where is the man who was involved?” Of course this can be answered in many ways: perhaps the scribes and Pharisees in question were Patriarchal chauvinists’, happy to let a fellow male go free? Maybe several of them were guilty of such sin themselves? It is even possible that the man was complicit in the plan to trap the girl or that he was simply able to escape while she was being caught? There is no way of knowing with certainty. What we do know however is that the Torah clearly requires that both the man and the woman caught in this type of sexual sin are to be punished. Therefore the question that was being posed was already outside the set interpretation, meaning the response must come in the form of an interpretive halakhic ruling from the rabbi being questioned, in this case, Yeshua. We also know—because the Torah teachers and Perushim/Pharisees, specify stoning as the punishment—that the woman was a virgin pledged in marriage prior to the act of adultery. We know this because that is the only situation in which the Torah specifies stoning as punishment for adultery. (Devarim/Deut 22:23-24)
The fact that this was done publically was unusual, given that it was illegal for Jews to carry out the death penalty under Roman governance. This was the counter balance to the fact that the Torah required stoning for such an offense, leaving Yeshua in what the Jewish teachers and Perushim considered an impossible situation.
It is important to note that Yeshua’s mother Miriam might just as easily have found herself in this situation if not for the righteous action of Yeshua’s earthly—adoptive—father Joseph. The key difference of course being that Miriam was not guilty of adultery. This correlation would have made this an especially emotional event for Yeshua. It is also important to note that throughout His earthly ministry Yeshua sought to honor women and renew their rightful place in G-d’s creative order. Therefore the intentional humiliation of this young woman could only have served to anger Yeshua further. In light of this, His measured response to the situation is without comparison.
“But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.”
In the midst of this tumultuous scene, Yeshua, calmly bends down and starts to write in the sand. One of our Yeshiva students noted that it reminded her of a child at play. Another student suggested that in doing this He took control of the situation, drawing everyone’s attention to himself and requiring the Torah teachers and Perushim to work to His time table, unwilling to be bullied into playing their silly game. Those of us who are old enough to remember might also liken it to a teacher writing on a black board. All eyes and ears are now on Yeshua and what He is writing. So what did He write? We can’t possibly know for certain though there are many suggestions. The only one I have found value in outside of what I will propose is the idea that He may have written the words of Jeremiah 17:13:
“Lord, you are the hope of Israel;
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the Lord,
the spring of living water.”
Perhaps Yeshua began His list of their names here and completed them when He stooped down to write the second time. However, while I like this idea, I would like to propose another option.
I have asked myself, “Did G-d the Father ever write in the earth with His finger?” The answer to which is yes, in fact He did it twice. I suggest that the first thing Yeshua wrote in the sand was the Ten commandments, that perhaps He did this, emulating His Father (Exodus 31:18) and noting that the second to last commandment is, “You shall not commit adultery.” Thus reminding the audience before Him of the many commandments each one of them had broken.
“But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.”
Clearly there were none present who were without sin. Therefore Yeshua’s statement was intended to bring a right judgment to this situation. By doing this He was not breaking the Torah, to the contrary, He was upholding its finer requirements. Both offenders were not present, nor was this being done in a court of Jewish rulers. Yeshua therefore, was making a halakhic ruling based on the fact that the Torah could not possibly be honored by this illegitimate trial.
He then stooped down to write for the second time. I suggest that He wrote the words that the finger of G-d wrote on the wall of Belshazzar the Babylonian ruler:
“Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
In other words: to the Teachers of the Torah and the Perushim He was saying, “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to your oppressors.”
Whatever He wrote, it seems that it was what He had said that moved them to leave. After all, the scripture says, “When they heard it, they began to go out one by one.”
Now Yeshua is left standing with the young woman, an intimate moment emphasized by the tender words that follow.
“Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Sir.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
Yeshua looks upon this humiliated and broken woman and with great mercy and compassion He shows her that social justice is but a tear in the vast ocean of G-d’s eternal justice. “Does anyone condemn you?” He says, to which she responds in a somewhat shaky but surprised voice, “No one, Sir.” And in keeping with what John’s gospel says about Him Yeshua says, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” I hear it this way, “Your sin has been covered, you’re free to start again child, don’t go back to that self-destructive lifestyle.”
And, just maybe, He was also thinking, “We need to get my mum to set you up with a nice Bethlehem boy like my adoptive dad Joseph, someone who will honor you and treat you the way a woman should be treated.”
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
This is brilliant Alastair.
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