Have you ever felt trapped without a way out of trouble or a difficult situation? Have you ever experienced hopelessness because options were nonexistent and the future looked as bleak as the present? That was the experience of the Israelites in Exile and the woman caught in adultery. There wasn’t a way out to freedom or forgiveness. There was only death.
Babylon, the superpower of its day, had conquered and destroyed Israel, leading the people into Exile. Everything that once gave the people security, whether the Temple, the king or even God Himself, was forever gone. There weren’t any dreams of freedom and returning home, not without a leader or army. It was all gone because of their infidelity to God.
The woman in the gospel doesn’t have any hope, just public shame because of her sin. Her life has been destroyed over a sin discovered by the Pharisees who drag her through the town informing everyone what she had done. Truth be told, she was being used in order to destroy Jesus. If the Pharisees were so concerned over what happened, where was the man she had been with? Why wasn’t he there in front of everyone also? But that didn’t matter to the religious leaders. Not only was the woman trapped, so was Jesus. If He said put her to death, the Romans would arrest Him since only Rome could impose a death sentence. If Jesus said let her go, He broke the Law. He was trapped in a no win situation. There wasn’t a way out. There were not any options, future, or hope.
But the religious leaders never took God into consideration, the One who opened a way through the Red Sea leading His people to freedom from the Egyptian army. The Lord opens a way through the desert giving water, food, protection and covenant for His people. God does the impossible by freeing a trapped people and restoring hope in the most hopeless situations. The people are not trapped by their sin because God forgives. They are not trapped by the power of Babylon since God’s power to liberate His chosen ones is greater. “See, I am doing something new!” (Is. 43:19). The action of God, who is always faithful, restores hope and gives His people a new future. Not only is there something to look forward to, but there is a real reason to live the present moment differently because of the God “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters.” (Is. 43:16). The people are not trapped because of God’s faithfulness.
The woman caught in adultery stands in humiliation in front of a crowd bent on putting her to death. All that’s left of her reputation is guilt. She needs to be set free. God needs to do “something new for her” and He does through His Son. Jesus challenges the religious leaders and mob to take inventory of themselves, not other people. For some, that would have been a new thought – not passing judgement on others and instead making an honest judgement of their words and actions. Isn’t that the most difficult task for anyone? How much easier and more satisfying it is to pass judgement on others! How hard it was for them to see their true selves, perhaps for the first time.
So, one by one, they leave until only the woman and Jesus remain. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8: 10). “See, I am doing something new!” (Is. 43:19). If only the Pharisees and crowd had remained. They would have received the same gift of forgiveness as the woman received from Christ.
“Let the one among you without sin throw the first stone.” (John 8:7). Stones of gossip, snide comments, self-righteousness, and rumors would slip from so many hands. A person is not a sin, even though sin is committed. A person makes a mistake but is not a mistake. Judgement is mine says the Lord. And fortunately, that judgement of God is done with compassion and mercy. He opens the way with forgiveness that leads to freedom and a different life.