Try to imagine this scene: a woman is on trial for a crime that everyone knows she has committed. The judge renders the verdict of “Guilty!” But then the judge steps down from the bench and offers to take the punishment in her place. The woman is left standing, free from guilt before the law but not free from shame before the crowd. They all know what she did.
In our reading today, a woman was caught in the act of adultery. She stood silent before her accusers, defenseless before the Law and the crowd. Her guilt and her shame were exposed and confirmed by all.
What would Jesus say to this woman? God the Father once carved the Law on tablets of stone; now the fingers of God the Son etched a pattern in the temple dust. The Law was not wrong to condemn adultery. Using it as a weapon to justify self-righteousness at the expense of someone else, however, was wrong. Jesus demonstrated how to uphold both the Law and God’s original intent for it.
Jesus had the authority to forgive the woman’s sins and spare her from the punishment of stoning. But his concern was not only for the woman’s physical life. He knew her shame would remain with her the rest of her days. Jesus reminded the crowd that none of them were blameless before the Law. They all needed mercy.
After the stones dropped and the footsteps retreated, the woman remained standing before her Judge. He did not pretend that she was innocent or excuse her crime. He healed her shame by forgiving her sin and instructing her to live in a way that reflected the healing and forgiveness she had received.