A nameless woman

You’ll remember this story – a lone woman surrounded by a circle of finger pointing males, a handy pile of stones – and Jesus. I first heard it in Grade 4 and spent the grammar lesson that followed wondering what Jesus might have written in the dirt. The rest of the story went straight over my head, as did the rules of grammar.


Why did the writer of John’s Gospel tell this story in such detail? It doesn’t get a mention in the other three Gospels.

Someone reading or hearing it for the first time might assume that it was about sexual morality, a preoccupation of the institutional Church for a very long time. Older, more conservative Christians find it hard to accept that the rules of sexual morality they have lived by are disregarded by the younger generation

Was Jesus as focused on sexual matters and their morality or otherwise, as some of us have been taught to believe?

As we struggle to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, how are we supposed to handle the anger and disillusion we feel about clergy who have sexually abused the young and vulnerable?

Then there’s Jesus’ attitude to women. Jesus stuck his neck out for women. He gave them respect, he valued them for themselves. It’s hard to understand why the Church leadership today works so hard to keep women out of things.

Is it about entrapment? The trap section of the word says it all. We trap mice for a variety of reasons and it’s not a pretty process however it is done. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus, to trip him up, to lead him into a compromising situation that would turn out to be religiously illegal. As an added extra it would serve to blacken his good name with the crowd.

Is it about hypocrisy? It’s a hard word and we apply it to the scribes and Pharisees because they were so focused on the letter of the Law that they quite forgot about its spirit. It must be difficult to be in a position of authority and not feel hypocritical at times. Occasionally it is said of someone: “What you see is what you get”, but not many of us are that transparent. We’re more like an adolescent who is moody and difficult at home but an angel of light elsewhere or a tough and unyielding boss who is a loving father.

Is it about discrimination? Well, of course it is. Where was the other party to the adulterous act?

Discrimination could be seen as a buzz word of the decade. We’re legally bound not to discriminate on the grounds of age, gender, nationality, culture, religion – and probably lots of other things too. The words of Jesus come to mind, ”Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Is it about forgiveness? There’s a gentleness in Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman contrasting with his steely response to the stone throwers slinking away as he doodled in the silky dust. He didn’t condone the harm that the adultery had undoubtedly done, but neither did he consider it an occasion for stone throwing. One can only imagine the gratitude of the woman. I wonder what her partner thought about it?

A story like this is a bit like an onion – layers of meaning. That’s the mystery and wonder of the Gospel. It was written a long time ago from the first hand memories of those who knew Jesus but its themes are timeless and as fresh as today. So, what is this story saying to you – today?

Judith Scully

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