By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from the Gospel of John 7:53-8:11

53 Then each of them went home, 1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They 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. 7When 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.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


The context of this story is the Feast of Tabernacles, a joyful time, with music and dancing, when the people commemorate God’s care for them in the wilderness and celebrate the harvest. The scribes and Pharisees interrupt this happy moment by bringing before Jesus a woman they claim to have been caught in adultery.

True to their role as Jesus’ adversaries, the scribes and Pharisees are again seeking an opportunity to entrap him. They present him with a dilemma, believing he will be impaled on its horns. The woman is of no importance to them (and there is no mention of the man) — only a tool in their scheme. The dilemma hinges on choosing between Mosaic and Roman law. If Jesus chooses that the woman be stoned, he stands to lose the support of the people; if he chooses that she not be stoned, he will stand accused not only of subverting Mosaic law, but also Roman authority, which in that period had the right to impose the death penalty. It is Jesus, not the woman, who is on trial here.

However, rather than condemning the woman to the punishment required by strict Mosaic or Roman law, he imposes a new and radical law of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus’ law forgives past sins — “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1) — and makes it possible for future ones to be forgiven. The woman, who entered as a condemned adulteress, is released by an action of grace that challenged a rigid observance of the law and that bestowed the gift of new life. May we look on her as a holy example of what God desires to do in each of our lives.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Diocese of Gahini (Rwanda) and the Rt. Rev. Alexis Bilindabagabo
Diocese of Gambia (West Africa) and the Rt. Rev. James Allen Yaw Odico
St. John’s Church, Savannah, Ga.


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