Jesus: Giver of Grace (8:2-11)

Bible Passage: John 8:2-11

This story is one of the most familiar and best-loved stories in the gospels, and it highlights the kindness and compassion of Jesus. The religious leaders of the day bring a woman to Jesus who has been caught in the act of adultery (it is noteworthy that they didn’t also bring the man – this is a power play much more than it is a genuine attempt to apply the law). They point out that in the law of Moses, the penalty for adultery was death by stoning, and they want to hear Jesus’ opinion. This was designed as a trap – either Jesus would need to speak against the Old Testament law or he would need to advocate something the Romans had banned and bring trouble on himself. Jesus finds a different response that highlights their hypocrisy, shows compassion to the woman and chooses grace over condemnation.

Note – In many Bibles it is pointed out that these verses are absent from many ancient manuscripts. Whilst this is the case, this story has been historically recognised by the church as inspired scripture and should be treated as such.

Jesus Is Tested: The situation engineered here by the religious leaders was a harsh and brutal one. A woman is brought and forced to stand before a crowd who had come to hear religious teaching, and she is put to shame. There is no denying that she has sinned, but so has the man involved too and he was not brought out in the same way. She is being treated as a pawn in their games and the whole purpose is to try to ensnare Jesus into doing something that would get him into trouble. The way these leaders treat the woman is starkly different from how Jesus treats her, and this should make us think twice about how we act with regard to others, and if we ever use them as means to our own ends.

Jesus Is Sinless: Rather than denying the Old Testament (causing trouble with the Jews) or calling for the woman to be stoned (causing trouble with the Romans), Jesus finds a third option. He suggests that whoever is sinless should be the first one to cast a stone. Yes, the woman has done wrong, but so had everybody else present including those who had brought her to Jesus. Jesus’s response highlighted this hypocrisy, and as none of them were willing to claim that they were sinless, they scuttled away one at a time, starting with those who were eldest until only Jesus remained. The point is simple: we are all sinful, and therefore we are in no position to judge one another. But Jesus is totally sinless, and he is the one has every right to judge us or to forgive us.

Jesus Is Gracious: When there are only Jesus and the woman remaining, Jesus speaks to her and asks whether there is anyone who condemns her. She says there is no-one, and Jesus adds that he does not condemn her either. Sin is real, but Jesus’ compassion is bigger than our sin, and he speaks words of grace and forgiveness over all out sin as we put our trust in him. This forgiveness does not trivialise sin, as we see when Jesus tells her to sin no more, but it does say that a person is no defined by their sin and that the shame and condemnation that others might wish to impose upon us are not the end of the story.

Potential Applications:

  • At its simplest this is a story about the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus. There will be people in the congregation carrying guilt and shame, and you can encourage them by affirming Jesus’ grace and inviting them to trust him for forgiveness.
  • This passage challenges how we treat others, particularly those who have done wrong publicly and evidently. Jesus shows a model of kindness and grace to emulate here that is very different to the religious leaders.
  • This is also a humbling passage that challenges our pride. When Jesus asks for one without sin to cast the first stone, we would slink away with the rest of them. Being humble about our sin and being ready to receive the grace that Jesus offers go hand in hand.