John 8:1-11: About this story: “Although it is a precious story for early Christian tradition and communicates an unforgettable picture of the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry, it is historically certain that it was not a part of the original Gospel of John” (People’s New Testament Commentary). This story is not found in any manuscripts until the third century, and is found in different places in different manuscripts. The line between Scripture and tradition is not as sharp as many Protestants have believed. We have this text because it was handed on in the church and later inserted into the Bible at various points, not because any biblical author included it in the text of the Bible. (People’s New Testament Commentary). I think this is both interesting and helpful as we try and keep an appropriate perspective on the Scriptures of our faith. At the same time, I appreciate John Sanford’s words. “Whether or not it was originally in the Fourth Gospel, it is a profound story and is within the spirit of John’s message” (Mystical Christianity, 168). As the story progresses, we notice that not only are the scribe and Pharisees quick to judge, but they make some mistakes along the way. No witnesses are provided, and according to the Law, both the man and the woman are subject to stoning. One aspect to the controversy is that only the Romans could authorize the death penalty in their territory. Is this a case like the controversy over paying taxes – some Jewish leaders trying to get Jesus in trouble with Rome? Anyway, these religious authorities have brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery and ask him what they should do. Jesus stoops to the ground and writes – we have no idea what he is writing. John Sanford suggests that perhaps Jesus is buying time, looking for a way to respond creatively to the situation (Mystical Christianity, 169). I really like that idea – to collect one’s thoughts, to breathe deeply and to connect with God’s Spirit within, to be in touch with a deep place of peace – these usually lead to a much more creative and caring response in difficult situations. Whatever he was doing, Jesus comes up with a marvelous response, asking the one who has never sinned to throw the first stone. Then he is silent, writing again on the ground. Sometimes a creative response to a difficult situation needs to be presented and let go. The leaders fade away one by one. He is left alone with this woman who has a tarnished reputation, and again offers a creative response to life – “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I… Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Jesus is gracious and generous. He offers not only forgiveness, but a new way of life. It is as if he is inviting the woman to be truly free. But it should be stressed that this freedom is not license to do as one pleases…. The mystery is that there is only one freedom for the ego and that is to serve the Center within. Practically speaking, this is tantamount to serving the will of God. That is the paradox: to serve one’s deepest inner truth is to become free. (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 171) This story encourages me to be forgiving and to try and stay free of the things which may entrap me.
John 8:12-20: The previous story was inserted late into John’s gospel, so we really don’t know who the “them” is that Jesus is addressing here. Pharisees are evidently among the audience. Jesus now uses images of light to describe what God is up to through his life. Again, his testimony is challenged based on the legal ideas within the Judaism of the time – one could not testify on one’s own behalf, or that testimony alone could not stand. Jesus rejects the standard in his own case. There may be times in our lives when we have some certainty about God’s direction for our lives, and need to move forward on the basis of that conviction, regardless of the words of others. We should always be cautious in making such a claim, but, at the same time, we know of such experiences and they are like the experience of Jesus here – he knows who he is and where he has come from.
John 8:21-30: The controversy with the authorities continues, and a sharp contrast is drawn between Jesus and how God is working through him, and those opposed to Jesus. Jesus continues to assert that his person and authority are from God, and that many will come to know that. Some come to know that even as he speaks.
John 8:31-38: Jesus now addresses those who have come to believe him. He encourages them to continue in his word, a word which is a liberating truth. But they are mystified by his speaking of freedom, again, only seeing things in literal terms. Jesus speaks symbolically, metaphorically and he speaks of the soul. We can be “free” legally, but spiritually enslaved. The truth that sets free is a deep inner knowing. What we are set free from is “sin” – and here the Greek word means something like “missing the mark.” What often enslaves us is our failure to keep things in proper perspective. We let possessions, behavior patterns, uncreative ways of thinking, relationships take on an importance they were never meant to carry and we choke off life and creativity. We are invited to relate to the world and our lives in a way appropriate to God’s relationship with us.
John 8:39-59: Remember that Jesus is said to be addressing those who believed in him, but they seem, now, more interested in picking a fight with him. Jesus accuses them of being among those who want to kill him. Again, Jesus uses words that draw a sharp contrast between himself and those who oppose him. Such language needs always to be used with great care. Too many in the history of Christianity have acted as if they were certain of their own righteousness and certain of the evil of the other. There is evil in the world, but the occasions when it is blatant and easily identified are not as numerous as some would imagine. There was precedent for the use of such language in the intra-Jewish debates of the time. Those who oppose Jesus accuse him of being a Samaritan and demon-possessed. If they cannot see God in him, then they have a hard time seeing God at all, according to Jesus. Much of the material in these verses reflects the very difficult debate between those Jews who chose to follow Jesus and were ostracized by other Jews, and even expelled by some synagogues, and those other Jews. Unfortunately, this material has been used by the Church to perpetuate anti-Semitism. John’s language about “the Jews” must always be read critically and with full awareness of how dangerous they become when removed from their original context (New Interpreters Study Bible). Toward the end, we again have Jesus identifying himself with the God who is known as “I Am.”