The Woman Taken in Adultery: An Imaginative Retelling of John 8:2-11

Shortly after the morning meal, one of the stable hands at the inn came upon a man and woman having sex in one of the empty stalls. He raised a hue and cry, and soon all the servants and half the guests had come running to apprehend the couple and make sure they got what was coming to them. Well, they apprehended her, anyway; the fellow got away, seeing as how he was on top and had run off before more than one or two of the others had arrived, and them more interested in laying hands on the half-naked woman, her blouse undone and her skirts clear up around her waist, than they were in catching him.

….He was good at seducing other men’s wives. So of course, he always had an ear half-cocked for the sounds of discovery. By the time the first shout was raised, he’d already heard footsteps and started to pull out of her. He jumped up and ran, holding up his pants with one hand, and keeping his face turned away from his discoverers. He ducked into the rearmost stall for half a minute, long enough to fasten his pants, straighten his clothes, and pull up his hood; then sneaked out the back entrance into the yard and strolled around the corner in time to join the mob pouring out of the inn. No one would suspect him there.

The first few lads were brought to the innkeeper, to tell what had happened, and then to one of the scribes: interrupting each other every other sentence, faces flushed with excitement at being the center of attention (and at having managed to grope and fondle the woman a few times while hauling her up and rearranging her clothes so she was decently covered). While the scribe went off to consult others, the crowd gossiped happily about the scandal. He returned with a colleague, and a couple of the local Pharisees, who said they were going to bring her to the temple, where that upstart Galilean was teaching; and the whole crowd followed along, to see what would happen.

Jesus was about to tell another parable when he saw a group of people entering the temple area and coming his way. The scribes and Pharisees leading the group marched up to him, dragging a woman with them, and thrust her in front of him. She looked terrified. More than that: terrified, humiliated, sickened, and betrayed.

“This woman,” one of them proclaimed, “was caught in the very act of adultery!” At that, two of the young men in the crowd straightened up, self-importantly; one took half a step forward, as if to give testimony. But the Pharisee was still speaking. “According to the law of Moses, we are commanded to stone adulterers. But what do you say, Teacher?”

Jesus waited for them to bring the man forward for judgment as well. While he waited, he bent down and wrote her name, then his, in the dust from which their first parents had been formed. But the Pharisees paid no attention; they were completely focused on the woman’s guilt, and on their challenge to him, pressing him for an answer.

Finally, he straightened up. He looked at the woman, to see if she would name the one who had seduced her. But she was silent, and opened not her mouth.

He looked at the man, who was hanging back uneasily at the edge of the crowd. As Jesus spoke, he looked directly into the man’s eyes: “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The man turned dead white, and his eyes were opened; he backed away, and hid himself among the pillars of the temple.

Jesus looked next at the two young men, who blushed and looked down, ashamed. He bent down again, and wrote a blessing around the woman’s name, while the crowd dispersed, departing one by one, no one quite meeting anyone else’s eyes as they sidled away.

….She probably could have slipped away, too; she sensed that he had prolonged his doodling on the ground so that she could if she’d wanted to. But she wasn’t sure what would happen if she did, and anyway she was still dazed and trembling from how close she’d come to being stoned. So she waited there, in front of this man whose gaze had opened her eyes to the true measure of her guilt, without making her feel soiled.

Finally he straightened up, looked around, and looked at her in the same way as before. “Woman, where are your accusers?” he asked. “Has no one condemned you?”

She looked around again, just to make sure; then shakily replied, “No… no one, sir.”

“Then neither do I condemn you,” he responded. His gaze softening, he added, “Go, then; and do not sin anymore.”

Her heart unaccountably lighter, she bowed her head respectfully, gathered herself, and left the temple area.

On her way home, she plucked a fruit from a fig tree that was unaccountably bearing out of season, and ate it, with gratitude.

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2 Responses to The Woman Taken in Adultery: An Imaginative Retelling of John 8:2-11

  1. May I purloin this for Ash Wednesday?

    • Thanks for your interest! I’m not sure about “purloin” (“make off with the belongings of others”), but you’re welcome to use the material as long as you attribute it to me, with a link to the blog post in any written material.

      I’d be very interested to hear how you plan to use it, and how it was received.

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