At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:9-11, NIV)
There is no doubt she was guilty. There was no doubt that, according to the Law, she deserved to die (Lev. 20:10). She had no defense. She could offer no excuses. What is more, there is no indication that the woman caught in adultery even so much as asked for mercy or forgiveness.
It is easy to get caught up in all the theology and scholarship surrounding the text. Why wasn’t the man brought with her? What was Jesus writing on the ground? What exactly was going on in the Pharisees’ mind? How were they trying to trap Jesus? What about the relationship of this passage to the rest of the Gospel of John? Is it part of the original writing? Who wrote it? Does it belong in the Bible? How does it fit into the context?
All of these are important questions, and I think we should be sure to offer answers to each of them. We should not, though, get so caught up in those questions that we miss the force of the story. For whatever value those questions have, there is one far more important we should be asking ourselves:
How is it that, if the one and only man who ever had a right to condemn anyone chose not to condemn this obviously guilty woman, we are so comfortable condemning others? Put differently, if the perfect Person didn’t condemn an imperfect person, why do imperfect people confidently condemn other imperfect people every day?
I ask this of myself just as I ask it of you. And as I ask it, I’m reminded of Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat:
Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you’re mad?’
`To begin with,’ said the Cat, `a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’
`I suppose so,’ said Alice.
`Well, then,’ the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.'”
If only we were as insightful as that old Cat. It is certainly mad to do precisely the opposite of what the sane person does. If Christ, then, does not condemn; indeed, if He does not even require our defenses and excuses, but simply looks at us in all our miserable guilt and does not condemn; still more, if far from condemning, He takes our condemnation on Himself in an act of pure love; then is it not pure insanity for me to think for one moment that I should, or even could, judge someone just as sinful as myself? To issue such a judgment seems to me to stand in the very place of God. More, it is to judge God Himself, for it is to tell Him that our judgment is more just than His. So yes, perhaps we’re all a little mad.