vv 4-5. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
This question was a trap for Jesus; that is clear in the next verse ‘They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him ‘ To be seen to let her off would be ignoring the law of Moses, and to say ‘Stone her’ would offend the occupying Roman authorities. So you can imagine the Jewish teachers thinking ‘Gotcha’. But Jesus sees right through the trap, and although he remained silent for a bit, they kept asking him for a clear answer. His answer left them stumped – who on earth could claim to be without sin and start the stoning process? The Law was seen to be upheld, the Romans would not be offended – and Jesus was able to exercise mercy towards the woman. It was a case of mercy triumphing over judgement. The woman – who was more likely to have been a victim than a perpetrator in adultery – was allowed to go on her way with nothing more than a loving warning.
At the end of the story we find Jesus standing in the middle of the crowd with the woman; all the accusers have melted away. What muttering there must have been in the crowd! Might there have been an occasional ‘She didn’t deserve to be let off’ or perhaps ‘Where is the man who was with her – he should have been dealt with too’.
It made me question whether we always approve of mercy in action. How should offenders be dealt with, even these days. Should justice be mere retribution and punishment, or should it aim at restoring the offender to society by acting with mercy? I personally would want to uphold a system of restorative justice that includes an element of mercy.
How do you feel about justice in the 21st Century?