The One Without Sin
Throughout the Gospel of John, there are a handful of stories of one-on-one encounters that Jesus has with various men and women. Over the past several weeks, we have been exploring some of these stories and trying to understand what Jesus wants these people to know after he meets them. In John 3, we meet Nicodemus. In John 4, there is the woman at the well. This week, we turn to John 8 where Jesus has an encounter not necessarily with an individual, but on an individual’s behalf.
This story that is found in the opening verses of John 8 is one of the unique texts in the New Testament. It is unique because of several bizarre features in the world of textual study. Most Bibles include a note concerning this story and might even set it apart somehow in print so that there is a visual cue that something unusual is happening. The reason for this is that we have a number of manuscripts of the Gospel of John that do not include this text, as well as many that do. What we can glean from this is that while it may be the case that this story was not always included in every version of John’s Gospel, it has come to be believed that this story absolutely belongs.
As you read John 7:53-8:11, you may notice that the tone of this story and of Jesus are consistent with the rest of the Gospel. The Jesus in this story is the same as the Jesus in the stories that we have examined so far. Take a moment to read this story here.
As a test, the religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus to try to trap him, knowing that he is compassionate and yet the Law directly teaches on the issue of adultery. Which will Jesus choose? To be compassionate to the woman or faithful to the Law of Moses?
But Jesus sees through the test, he understands the hearts of those who have brought this woman forth to him, and he is ready to challenge those very hearts. He wants to break down the feelings of guilt and shame, the “gotcha” mentality, so that he can bring them to something different than rule-based thinking. Jesus wants them to know and become like God. And God is not in the business, we learn from this story, of trapping his people in religious conundrums. God is in the business of healing and restoring his people so that they can know the fullness of what it means to be a child of God.
And so Jesus utters the famous line, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And, of course, the entire crowd walks away as it dawns on them what Jesus is asking them to understand. They all have sin–past and present. They all are separated from God’s presence. They all are in need of forgiveness, cleansing, and healing. And so they walk away. Until finally, it is only Jesus and this woman who has been brought before him.
And in this moment where Jesus (who is the only one without sin) has a chance to condemn this woman, he chooses not to do so. And this should encourage us greatly–at least it does to me! Because what we learn from this encounter, this bonus story in the Gospel of John, is that the one without sin is not here to cast stones or to judge us (as Jesus stated in John 3 too). This one without sin is here to transform, redeem, and awaken us to the reality that God desires for all of God’s creation–that we would be, now and forever, one with God. That we would be restored to fullness of relationship with the God who created us. That we would turn away from the sin in our lives and instead turn to God.
And so, this week, I encourage you to have the words that Jesus spoke to this woman on your mind and heart constantly. Words not of condemnation but restoration. May we be reminded of our God’s goodness, compassion and mercy, and love, and may we go now on our way, leaving our life of sin behind.