If you knew anything about the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple precincts, and the ferocity of the present tense in the Greek manuscripts of this incident, you would have to conclude that the whole scene was set up beforehand by those who wanted the death of Jesus. The woman herself was, to them, totally unimportant, disposable after use, even by stoning. What was important was the death of Jesus. I’ve written on that at length elsewhere. Can’t find it. The hermitage is not yet in order. So just a few comments:
If Jesus agreed to have her stoned, He Himself would be put to death that very day by Pontius Pilot, who could not tolerate an individual usurping the right of Rome to judge whether someone was worthy of capital punishment.
If He didn’t agree to have her stoned — which would be thought to be a disagreement with Moses — then He would lose all credibility, and could be stoned along with the woman.
Either way, He was a dead Man that day, no? The answer is yes, He was a dead Man that very day. You can’t infuriate the religious leaders of the day and live, not in yesteryear, nor today. You’ll have your head cut off one way or the other.
Some of the Fathers of the Church (by no means unanimous!) did not like this passage, saying that it let the woman off too easily. My response: No, it didn’t.
In fact, many religious leaders today would throw Jesus out of active ministry for being so “severe” with her, so “pastorally insensitive”. He said: “Do not sin again!” Those words should ring in our ears, given sound by the weakness we know ourselves to suffer. “How dare He not give us a loophole, a rationalization, a way to break the Law of God and please ourselves. How dare He tell us to do the impossible!”
Sometimes people don’t know what they are doing: “Father, forgive them… They know not what they do!” Those making the comments that Jesus let her off too easily ought to see things from her perspective. She could see quite plainly that Jesus, in doing what He did – turning the tables with a word, having those breathing death humiliate themselves – He Himself would pay the price. They would immediately plot His death another way, and be successful in doing this…
… until He rose from the dead.
It was in this moment in which Jesus said, “No more! No more will stoning of adulterers be a viable pedagogical witness to the justice of God in the face of sin. In laying down my life, I, being God and man, will be the only lesson which men will receive from now on about the horrors of sin and the mercy of God. I will take on the consequences of their sin, death, and so have the right in justice to have mercy on them. Father, forgive them…
Though some throw tantrums, wanting to stone this adulterous woman right out of the Scriptures, saying that she is not textually critically viable, the Church says otherwise. I’ve done some rather detailed studies of this. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to find those in the hermitage here, and publish them.
And oh, just to say, this woman does not object, nor throw a tantrum that she is too weak to stay away from sin. She has a sense of the strength and love of Jesus that will keep her on the right Way to heaven. Of course she is too weak. We are all too weak. Jesus doesn’t just command us not to sin. He gives us strength. He has the right to do this. He was, as it were, stoned to death for us.
To go further with this. This adulterous woman, no longer adulterous, but in the good graces of the Most High, is the image of the Immaculate Bride of Christ, the Church. She is transformed in grace. She is one with her Savior. The Sacred Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are filled with references to this, no? Everywhere you look.
Any sin is an adultery, departing from the right Way to prostitute ourselves to the ways of the world, the flesh and the devil. With any sin, we are that adulterous woman. Sure, circumstances set me up for a fall into whatever sin, such as arrogance. But I could choose not to sin, depending on the grace of our Lord. But I can also choose to be the adulterer, prostituting myself to political correctness. The Lord will tell me: “Sin no more!” And, with His grace, I, like this woman, will look to Him with humble thanksgiving, knowing that His words are not mockery, but an invitation to trust in Him once again. Jesus, just that good, just that kind.