Illuminating Lent: The Women Taken in Adultery

March 13, 2016 – March 19, 2016


John 8:1-11

What word stands out to you?



I hear a narrative in which Jesus moves from the Mount of Olives to the temple in order to teach. A crowd immediately gathers to listen to what he has to say. Not just some people, the text says that all the people came. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman in front of him to test him. They cite Moses and the law and ask Jesus to make a judgment regarding her. He takes a moment before he responds, but when they press him, he neither condemns her nor undercuts the law. This is a story of mercy. This is a story that points to our role in carrying out judgment on earth. There is no doubt this event made a big impact on the woman. She rightly expected to be stoned that day. She was not, and that makes all the difference. Expecting to die, Jesus gave her new life.




Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). The Gospel recounts that he said it, as in it is written in the past tense, but I cannot stop myself from reading it in the present tense: “Jesus says…” During this season of Lent, we are more aware of our sins. We are called to repent and believe in the Gospel. We are especially aware of our weaknesses. When we come to this passage in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus encountering our sin. Jesus does not brush it aside. At the same time, he does not seek the punishment we or others might put on ourselves. He shows mercy. This unexpected act commands our attention, and the solidarity it shows can move us. The only one without sin was the one left alone with the woman, Jesus. We all sin, and there are times when we find motivation to fulfill the punishment we see fit, be it on ourselves or on others. But instead of punishing the woman, Jesus puts her on the same plane as the scribes and Pharisees and reveals God’s mercy.




When I look at this illumination, I immediately notice that it has two frames. The first one is a bit darker, and the second one points me back to the first frame when I see the stones on the ground. As I look back and forth, I see Jesus in a humble position in the first frame and I see the curtain open to the woman in the second one. When I see Jesus bent down in the first frame, it communicates the difficulty of the situation. How will he respond? I’m drawn to the second frame because it seems that there is peace and confidence in Jesus’ decision. I see the open curtain in two ways. The first signifies that Jesus is pointing the way out of the temple, instructing the woman to go back to her life with the mission to sin no more. The second shows Jesus pointing her into the temple where she can be closer to God. She may want to offer a sacrifice to God after such an event. Whereas before she was separated from God, this act of mercy gives her the chance to be in deeper relationship with God.




God of all mercy,
My sins are exposed before you.
You see them plainly,
And I know pure justice would leave me dead.
Even before you speak, I heap shame upon myself.
I even seek my own punishment and carry it out.
But you, O God, you show me mercy.
You touch me in my inmost being.
You speak truth in my heart.
You remind me that you are there with me.
You refute my desire to punish myself
And inspire within me self compassion.
Despite my resistance, even to this, you persist.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
Teach me the wisdom of self compassion.
Inspire me to reach out to my neighbor,
With the same compassion and mercy
you showed this woman.
Let this be my song of praise and thanksgiving
for your everlasting mercy.
This is the music I make to you while I live!
Continue to dwell with me
all the days of my life.





As I contemplate this story, I feel a certain solidarity with all people. When the scribes and Pharisees dropped their stones and walked away, they told me that they had also sinned. It reminds me that we are all struggling. Each one of us has a challenge to bear, and I feel support remembering that. Imagining the many ways in which I might observe the sins of others, this story gives me a real sense that everyone from the highest scholars, gurus and religious leaders all the way down to the people labeled as the biggest sinners need the mercy of God. All are one in our need for relationship with God and in our need for God’s mercy. It moves me to be more merciful daily because opportunities to give mercy abound. What observations remind you of the opportunities to give and receive mercy?



Becoming Christ-like

When I hear that the accusers went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, I encounter the wisdom of mercy. I see the accusers deferring to the wisdom of Jesus. When I ask God to teach me wisdom, it is dangerous because it may require me to refrain from my typical pattern of punishing others or myself. It is dangerous because I am praying for an experience to gain wisdom, which will surely challenge me to grow and change. This work of transformation is painful. Christ’s way that we follow, being extensions of Christ’s mercy, is not just a feel-good story of positive self talk. The implications are huge.

How do we respond to people we think have broken the law—to people who have divorced and remarried, to people who have abused children, to people with addictions? Like this woman in the story, these people might expect to be “stoned” for their actions. It is no simple decision, but Jesus, as he does on several accounts in the Gospels, imagines a creative and inspiring third way forward. What is the third way you need to find? When all you see is either letting yourself and others “off the hook” or punishment according to the law, how will this story stimulate your imagination? The structures that upheld the law then still exist to uphold the law now. The structures are reinforced within us and within the wider Christian community. This passage calls us to pause for a moment, to listen to God’s voice of mercy, and to act from God’s wisdom in our inmost being.


Chris Morgan is in his second year of studies for the Master of Divinity degree at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Saint John’s University in 2011. His ministry interests include hospital chaplaincy, ministry in the outdoors and work with people with disabilities.


3 thoughts on “Illuminating Lent: The Women Taken in Adultery

  1. In this day when we read in the daily paper that women are regularly falsely accused and stoned, it makes just personal reflection on this gospel unconvincing. How does this gospel call us to act in response to brutality to women?

      • Chris, Therese, team members and others,

        I join the conversation – not with answers, but more questions:

        What about equal pay for women in employment?
        Where was the accountability for men?
        Where can we all be more accountable today – especially in terms of omitting the common good we may be able to do?

        Maybe an idea or two about all abuse – see it, name it, oppose it in all its forms. Continue to grow in love oneself …

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