Inspired by John 7:53-8:11
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now the law of Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’” John 8:3-5 (NRSV)
In our efforts to live as faithful Christian disciples, we are called to study God’s word and discern his will for our lives. This includes examining his ancient commandments and attempting to understand how to apply them in our own times. Given that we no longer speak the language in which God’s early activity was recorded, and that our cultural contexts and societal norms are vastly different from the earliest witnesses, any attempt to apply God’s eternal word to our modern lives requires interpretation.
The Pharisees claimed they caught the woman “in the very act of committing adultery” and referenced “the law of Moses” as commanding she be killed by stoning for her crime. Most likely they were referring to Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” However, if she had indeed been caught in the very act of committing adultery, then where was the man with whom she was committing adultery? Why were the Pharisees not outraged by his actions and demanding he be punished according to the law of Moses as well?
By their selective application of the law, the Pharisees revealed their cultural prejudices. When we seek to make ancient commandments normative for our own lives and societies, we must beware of doing the same thing. We must recognize our own biases, and we must be open to hearing what the word actually says opposed to what we want it to say. We must take the same standard of Christian grace and selfless love that we claim for ourselves and apply it to those we’d prefer not to honor, for they too are created in the image of God.
Let us pray. Eternal God, your Word is as eternal as your steadfast love. Open our eyes to our own prejudices and biases, that we may be fair and just in our application of your commandments. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.