The woman caught in adultery is thrown at Jesus’ feet. Shaken, terrified, and humiliated for being placed in this position, the gathering men holding rocks in their hands are demanding from Jesus a verdict. Is this guilty woman deserving of death?
Jesus’ answer to the throng of religious zealots confounds them in their furious quest to uphold the laws of Moses. Jesus’ answer to the woman seems even more preposterous.
“Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)
Was Jesus giving a command to leave all of her sins or rather persuading her to leave the life of adultery? Is Jesus making the suggestion that it’s possible to abandon sin altogether? Is that the main point of the story found in John 8:1-11?
The Mormon Church believes, according to these passages, that it is possible to abandon all sin.
In a recent General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “Because we are accountable and we make the choices, the redemption from our own sins is conditional — conditions on confession and abandoning sin and turning to a godly life, or in other words, condition on repentance.”
An LDS friend of mine recently shared that humans have been created with the ability to abandon sin. That’s what Jesus told the adulterous woman to do. Repentance becomes a process where abandoning sin is possible and part of our human potential is to eternally progress and be like Jesus.
Is this what Jesus meant?
In the context of examining these verses, we are led to focus on the Pharisees who were accusing the woman rather than the woman herself.
Jesus was making outrageous claims. He was performing miracles and declaring to be the promised Messiah. The religious leaders were desperate to test whether his claims were true or not. Within the temple courts, it seems that a perfect opportunity fell right into their laps. A woman was caught in adultery.
They wanted Jesus was in a predicament. If Jesus agreed that stoning upheld the Mosaic law, then he would be violating Roman law of capital punishment without permission. If Jesus disagreed that stoning is permissable, he would be breaking the Mosaic law.
Instead of providing a answer he provoked a pause for question. For those without sin, Jesus replied, may cast the first stone.
And one by one, the stones dropped to the dirt.
The standard for upholding the law is perfection. Those without perfection have no right to condemn. Instead of testing the validity of Christ’s testimony, they were convicted themselves.
For those who pursue God’s righteousness based on upholding the commands of God will fall far short. Instead, they will receive God’s wrath. For those who felt they were on the right path to abandon sin as a result of being righteous in their works, Jesus reserves his strongest words of judgment. Repentance is acknowledging that you will always sin and the need to escape spiritual death as a result. You are desperate for a change in status.
And for the woman who probably already knew she was far from God, she received an answer of grace by not being condemned, plus a rebuke that she ought to leave her life of sin.
The focus of the story was not about the adulterous woman, but the hearts of self-righteous men who were condemning her.