I recently heard the most striking telling of the story of the woman caught in adultery. It moved me to tears in such a real way. This doesn’t happen to me often these days. Something was so real and true in what I was hearing. The person that was sharing…it was so real for them, I could tell. As if they had encountered Christ like this, as if they knew it’s what he was like. And I had this sense of knowing that this is who Jesus is in my life, of trusting it, wanting to believe it. This is what makes sense. This is what makes life make sense, for me.
We were made to connect. To be our unique selves, while being connected at the same time. For most, one or the other of these is sacrificed. But without both, we disappear…we give up a piece of our humanity. To connect at the expense of self, is to lose ourself in another, as well as to diminish the other’s unique self. To choose independence, at the expense of connecting, is to lose that which gives us life and wholeness. Rather than knowing and being known, we are alone, living as more of an object than a human. Becoming less than who we truly are.
The religious leaders wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Rather than seeing her as a whole person in need of healing, they saw her actions. Only a part of her. They saw an object. An object to be destroyed, rather than a whole person to be connected with. But their identity was in following what they thought were the rules. They chose this at the expense of connection. Tragically, this is a picture of what it can look like to allow religious zeal to isolate oneself from relationship. A whole person connecting with another whole person. They not only objectify the woman here, but I believe they objectify themselves, as well. They are concerned with doing the right actions externally, carrying out punishment. They are missing the opportunity to extend a hand, grace, mercy, and to connect, which has the real power to heal. Rather than living as broken humans that can connect with another broken human, they live as if they are greater than, adopting an identity incapable of meeting the woman and sharing in her humanity. All while diminishing their own human-ness. Missing out.
And Jesus responds. I know you know, but I can’t get over it. One might say if anyone had the right to condemn, it was he. “Neither do I condemn you.” I believe he sees a woman who is hurting, not actions to be punished. He gets down on the ground. I wonder if he looks into her eyes in a way she’s never experienced. I wonder if she felt known in that moment. Known and accepted by the one who sees a beautiful human worth standing up for to her accusers, her objectifiers.
Some people love the caveat that he tells her to “go and sin no more.” But notice, he does not say, “neither do I condemn you if you go and sin no more.” There are no ifs. It is not unlikely that she returned to her lover. We honestly do not know and cannot. But how often do we return to things to try to meet our needs, knowing they hurt us? I imagine Jesus knows this is a definite possibility, but “neither do I condemn you.” There is a deeper knowing and understanding here. This is about her heart and humanity and his desire for her to be healed and whole, not simply modify her behavior.
If I know anything from experience in life it is that this real healing often comes over time and through relationship and human connection. And also for me, yes, through an awareness of the Divine in my life, which I have faith interacts with me, extending grace, life, light, and the way to truth. But very definitely through human relationships does this healing come, as well. And not without them. Vulnerable relationship with another person might be where I experience the Divine most tangibly. This is what I see Jesus being about here. Being a human connecting with another, meeting them and us, in our humanity. When the religious leaders saw objects, he saw people.
**Some of this is a paraphrased talk by my professor, Dr. Hall.