At first, we may be shocked by the actions of this woman who is brought to Jesus. She has broken her marriage vows by committing adultery. She has shamed herself, her family and her community.
But, as so often in the Gospels, there is more to the story than meets the eye. It takes two to commit adultery. If she was ‘caught in the act,’ as her accusers say, where is the man who was her partner in sin? In fact, the scribes and Pharisees are setting a trap for Jesus. If he tells them to stone the woman to death, as the Jewish Law requires, he will come into conflict with the Roman authorities, who did not allow the conquered people to inflict such a punishment. Perhaps their duplicity is the really shocking thing in this story. The unfortunate woman is being used as a pawn in their power play.
In just one sentence, Jesus shows up the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Of course, the self-righteous accusers melt away. The woman’s life is saved. Jesus does not condemn her, as he does not condemn us; but if we hope to receive mercy from the Lord, we must follow his example of compassion, and not judge others.