Formations 03.20.2022: The Adulteress

John 7:53–8:11

If we want to understand just how revolutionary Jesus was, we can look at his treatment of women. In his time, women were excluded from most of the societal positions that gave men prominence, financial security, dignity, authority, and good reputations. Women were expected to stay silent and submissive and let men handle the important matters of life. And then came Jesus, walking among them, flipping society on its head.

• He included women among his disciples (Matt 12:46-50).
• He healed an older woman and welcomed her as his follower (Matt 8:14-15; Mark 1:30-31; Luke 4:38-39).
• He called a woman deemed unclean by society “Daughter” and healed her of her bleeding (Mark 5:34).
• He healed a bent-over woman and called her “daughter of Abraham,” indicating that she was one of God’s children just as much as any man (Luke 13:15-16).

These are only a few of the biblical instances when Jesus bucked societal expectations and included women as human beings of value in God’s kingdom.

Today’s lesson text is difficult to read because of the absurd double standard. Trying to test Jesus as usual, scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before him. Somehow, they’d caught her in the act of adultery. Issues of privacy aside, it’s maddening to realize that if they caught her in the act, they certainly caught the man who was committing adultery with her. Yet they bring only the woman in for punishment, ready to stone her. Jesus’ handling of this crisis moment is astonishing. He writes in the ground, almost nonchalantly, and then he says words that must have made the men’s blood boil: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

The scribes and Pharisees brought this sinful woman to see whether Jesus would follow the Old Testament law. He not only fails to mention the law but also dares to accuse them of being sinners as well! The audacity. The men, though, have nothing more to say, and they leave. Jesus holds the woman accountable for her actions, telling her not to sin anymore, but he assures her she’s not condemned and gives her agency to make her own choices (vv. 10-11).

The world has changed drastically since Jesus’ time, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to treating men and women equally as human beings. Who would be the accusers today? Who would be the accused? What would Jesus point out about our society?

Discussion

• What explanations are given for the subjugation of women over the centuries of history?
• Are any of these explanations acceptable?
• How does women’s history of subjugation still affect their progress today, in 2022?
• What other stories about Jesus show how God views women?
• As Christians, what can we do to continue supporting the equality of women—in equal pay for equal work, in household management and expectations, in being heard and respected in their places of employment and service, in healthcare, and more?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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