This incident of the adulterous woman was difficult for the early church; it is rarely found in the early manuscripts. It took a long time for them to accept this story and Jesus’ role in it. His forgiveness is outrageous to many. In light of the persecutions, many apostatized, but then later wished to come back to communion. A major controversy arose within the Christian community about whether to accept them back or not, how to ensure their repentance, and what penance they deserved. This story is arguably about them, too. It is a story about infidelity. But whose?

Jesus has spent the night on the Mount of Olives in prayer. The scribes and Pharisees spent the night scouring the neighborhood with the evil intent of catching wrongdoers, as if they were the judges. The incident takes place early in the morning in the Temple. Jesus is teaching before, during, or after the time of morning sacrifices.

The scribes and Pharisees absolve themselves cleverly by simply saying she was caught in adultery, without stating that they are the ones who caught her. Since this occurred in the Temple, there was no sand to show the writing; there was stone pavement. I’ve always agreed with those who think he was writing what the finger of God wrote on the walls at Belshazzar’s feast: mene, tekel, peres. You have been weighed, you have been found wanting, you will be condemned. The crowd, seeing this, and knowing its truth, dissipate and disappear.

No one left to condemn her, Jesus odes not damn her, but says, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Is his forgiveness embodies in the simple word, “Go!” It is the only word of his that comes close to it. And is his simple word of such power that her life is set right? These direct words to her, a question and a statement are the core of the text; his teachings typically come, if they are direct at all, at the end of an incident. The incident is not included in one of John’s signs.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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