- Fr. Satish Joseph
"Let him who has not sinned..." - A Retelling of the Story of the Woman Caught in Adultery
I hadn’t seen him in few months. Jerusalem, though, was abuzz with news about Jesus. Caiaphas, the high priest and the other religious leaders were conspiring to put him to death. Their argument was that it was expedient for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish. I was hoping that the stand-off between the authorities and Jesus might blow over. My hope was beginning to fade.
My first encounter with Jesus was accidental. I had heard stellar stories about his multiplying loaves, healing a man born blind, and even raising a dead man to life. I wanted to meet him but life got in the way. There was always tomorrow. Tomorrow happened at the market square.
As I was returning home one morning, a huge commotion drew my attention. There were angry people shouting, “Stone her!” “Death to the lawless!” I rushed to see the spectacle. Trapped amidst a circle of enraged men was a lone woman. Half-sitting and half-kneeling on the ground, she she buried her face in her palms. Her long black hair covered her nakedness and her shame. What does it feel like when someone is waiting for the first stone to hit their bare body? The crowd was charged with raw hysteria. I heard someone say that she was caught in the very act of adultery. I tried find out who she was committing adultery with? “Where is the man?” I asked. People shrugged their shoulders as if the question was irrelevant.
The scenario became clearer to me very soon. Apparently, some of the leading pharisees had brought this woman before Jesus to test him. “How pathetic!” I said to myself. “She is a mere ploy in their sinister plot. She is only a bait to trap him. Is this all the value this woman has - a toy in a malicious game?” I was incensed. I saw the woman trembling with fear and shame. And then it happened. Jesus, fearlessly and confidently drew closer to the woman. My curiosity drew me closer to the scene as well.
The look on Jesus’ face - a mixture of pity and rage. Yet, there was an out-of-the-world calmness in his demeanor. It is hard to describe. The Pharisees taunted him. “What do you say?” they asked. Their tone reeked of arrogance. They knew they had him this time. He said nothing. He merely looked at them and then surveyed the maddening crowd. Some of them were rolling the stones they had picked in their hands to execute the sentence. The volatility was palpable. The slightest instigation could end up in brutality. I looked at Jesus. He calmly sat on the ground. With his finger he began to write. The pharisees began to peek at what was being written. He straightened up said to the crowds, “Let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone.” Then he continued to write. There was an eerie silence. Not one body moved. The pharisees looked stunned. “He gets away every time,” I heard one of them say in pure frustration. I could see their arrogance turn into fury. They had lost face. I could sense the hysteria ease as people began to drop their stone and one-by-one walk away. The pharisees left enraged and in a huff. They were clearly out-maneuvered. I breathed a sigh of relief. The woman was spared of a brutal end. The woman sat there as vulnerable as in the beginning, but less threatened. My admiration for Jesus reached new heights. This man was a breath of fresh air.
If the situation has ended there, I would have been content. Jesus, however, did something heroic. He walked up to the woman. He took off his outer cloak and covered her. He then took her hand and raised her up. I could see some of the Pharisees looking at him from a distance. He was left alone face-to-face with her. I took few steps back simply because I sensed that she must want to thank him for saving her life. “Has no one condemned you?” he asked her. Her voice quivered as she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you,” he said. “Go, and sin no more.” She simply collapsed into his arms and wept. She must have sobbed for quite a few minutes before she picked herself up, wrapped the cloak tightly around her and disappeared into the market place. I stood there stunned and speechless. I had never seen such raw courage or such wisdom at play. “The Holy One of God is surely present in our midst and I have seen his face,” I whispered to myself.
It took all the courage in me to walk up to him. Breaking the silence, I said to him, “Unless God himself is present in our midst, this is impossible.” He looked at me, a little startled at the interruption. Then, with those penetratingly compassionate eyes, he said to me, “You are not far from the kingdom of God!”
PS: I have written this story from the perspective of Nicodemus, who early in the Gospel of John followed Jesus secretly, but by the end of the Gospel, comes out into the open.
- Fr. Satish Joseph