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Daily Devotional • December 7

David Baumann
Things Become People
A Reading from the Gospel of John 7:53-8:11

53 Then each of them went home, 1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and, making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Several times I’ve heard people ask, with a measure of indignation, “If they brought the woman caught in adultery, why didn’t they bring the man?” It’s because this incident is not about adultery. The woman’s accusers did not see her as a woman; she was a “thing” to be thrust into Jesus’ face as a weapon against him. They were not concerned about her sin or her punishment; they were concerned about destroying Jesus. 
Well before Jesus’ time, Jewish leaders had come to apply the death penalty very rarely. The question was not likely whether the woman should actually be executed, but whether her accusers could publicly put Jesus into a situation in which anything he said would be hopelessly offensive. The same thing was tried when they asked if it were lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. 
What was really in conflict were two worldviews: one that was so legalistic and condemnatory that it had overwritten or even forgotten the true meaning of the Law; and one that lifted the Law up to its deepest meaning, in which mercy, love, and forgiveness were infused into the Law’s righteous demands. The Law remains, and sin is always sin — but the Law is intended to show all people their need of God; it is definitely not intended to fuel some people’s self-righteousness over others. This message pervades the gospel.  
The woman almost certainly was terrified to be facing such a ghastly, unexpected punishment. Jesus’ brilliant answer not only restored her from being a “thing” into being a woman, but showed her accusers that they also were people whose misguided self-righteousness and accusatory rage had led them to accept a subhuman view of themselves. Surely the shouting of the mob became a stunned silence in which all, all were uplifted into grace-filled humility before the face of God.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Ogbaru – The Church of Nigeria
Trinity Parish, St. Augustine, Florida
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