Fr. Satish Joseph
"Neither do I Condemn You": A Rereading 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 religious authorities and Jesus might blow over. My hope was beginning to fade.
My first encounter with Jesus was out of pure curiosity. It was a chance meeting and I didn’t make much of it. Since then, though, I had heard stellar stories about him - multiplying loaves and feeding hungry people, healing a man born blind, and even raising a dead man to life. I wanted to meet him again, but as they say, life got in the way. There was always tomorrow. Tomorrow happened today.
One my way back home from the market, I witnessed a huge commotion at the market square. There were angry people shouting, “Death to the lawless!” “Death to the lawless!” I rushed to the scene to see the spectacle. Encircled by a crowd of raging men was a lone, hapless woman. Half-sitting and half-kneeling on the ground, she had her face buried in her palms. Her long black hair covered her nakedness and her shame. I could see her body trembling. The crowd was charged with raw hysteria. If compassion is a thing in this society, today it was not to be found.
I heard someone shout that she was caught in the very act of adultery. “Where is the man?” I asked someone standing next to me. I was curious to know who was her partner in crime. He shrugged their shoulders as if my question was preposterous.
The situation became clear to me rather quickly. Some of the leading religious leaders had brought this woman before Jesus. But there was something sinister about it. They had bought her to him 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 their malicious game?” I stayed calm even though I was incensed.
The woman I saw trembling before, was now shaking in her whole body.
And then it happened. Jesus fearlessly weaved himself through the raging crowd and drew closer to the woman. My curiosity drew me closer as well.
It was hard to capture the look on Jesus’ face. It was a look of anger and pity all mixed in one. Yet, there was an out-of-the-world calmness in his demeanor. The Pharisees taunted him. “What do you say?” they asked. “The law of Moses commands us to stone such women!” Their tone reeked of arrogance. They knew they had him this time.
Jesus did not respond. You could have heard a pin drop. Everybody heard the gasp that escaped the woman’s lips. It did nothing to soften the hearts of her accusers. I wondered what it feels like when someone is waiting for the first stone to hit their bare body?
The religious authorities taunted Jesus again. “What do you say?” they asked with greater haughtiness.
Once again, Jesus said nothing. He surveyed the maddening crowd. Some of them were rolling in their hands the stones they had picked up to execute the sentence. The volatility was palpable. The slightest instigation could end up in brutality. Finally Jesus turned his face to the ground and sat down. With his finger he began to write on the ground. The pharisees tried to peek at what was being written. I could not see what written, but he straightened up, as one with authority, and cried out, “Let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone.” He kept his gaze on the crowd and would not spare them even a wink. There was an eerie silence. Not one body moved. The religious authorities looked stunned. “He gets away every time,” I heard one of them grumble in pure frustration. They were clearly outwitted. They had lost face. I could see their pent-up frustration turn into fury.
You could hear the clunk of one stone after another hitting the ground as the religious authorities dropped their stones left the crowd in a huff. The hysteria eased and the other people also began to leave. I breathed a sigh of relief. The woman was spared a brutal end. I could see from the corner of my eye that from a distance some of the religious authorities were looking at Jesus and the woman still on sitting on the ground.
The woman sat there, less threatened, but as vulnerable as she was in the beginning.
My admiration for Jesus reached new heights. This man was a breath of fresh air.
If the situation had ended there, I would have been content. Jesus, however, did something even more daring. He walked up to the woman, took off his outer cloak, and covered her. Then he gently took her hands in his and raised her to her feet. Now Jesus was left alone, face-to-face, with her. I stepped back to let her have a moment with him. She probably wanted to thank him.
“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 wept uncontrollably. After what seemed like eternity, the woman wrapped his cloak tightly around her and disappeared into the marketplace.
I stood there stunned and speechless. I had never seen such raw courage or such intuitive 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 incredible.”
He looked at me, a little startled at the interruption. Then, with those penetrating eyes, he said to me, “You are not far from the kingdom of God!”
- Fr. Satish Joseph