At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.I knew she was trouble the minute I saw her. Maybe it was the tears. Maybe it was the couple of bruisers who hustled her across the pavement toward me. And maybe it was the crowd of Highly Respectable People who followed behind at a much more dignified pace.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:1-11, NIV).
"We have a case for you," said the leader of that crowd when it finally arrived. "And frankly, it has us stumped. This woman's been caught in the act, if you know what I mean -- and in the old days, we'd have known what to do with her. But now . . . "
I nodded. Ever since the Occupation, capital cases were out of our hands. And the authorities took a dim view of the death penalty in situations like this.
"So you're the smart guy," he continued. "You tell us what to do: Do we follow God's law or . . . "
He kept talking -- you could tell he'd been rehearsing this speech a long time. But the more he talked, the more it looked like a put-up job. Usually, there was no way you could prove a charge like this; you needed two witnesses who'd been there and seen everything the whole time.
Especially when the first thing the defense would ask those two witnesses is why they didn't try to stop it -- just as the law required you to do.
No, there was no way you could claim to be a witness in a case like this -- not unless you were lying.
And everybody knew the penalty for lying in a case like this was death.
So where were the witnesses? That's what I couldn't figure out. They were supposed to stick around after the trial. In fact, they were supposed to carry out the sentence; that was the rule: the witnesses always threw the first stones.
So the man talked, and the woman sobbed, and I doodled in the dust while I thought about those missing witnesses. And the more I thought about them, the more clear it was that I faced a trap -- and this woman was just the bait.
No, the real target was me.
Play along with this crowd, in other words, and I'd get in dutch with the authorities. Tell them where to get off, and I'd look like a traitor.
Not good, either way.
Not unless I played this game even better than they did.
"Looks like an open and shut case," I said, standing up. The woman moaned a little when she heard that, and the crowd got real quiet. "Now all we have to do is find those fine, upstanding citizens who testified in this case . . . all we have to do is find them, and get on with the execution. Anybody know where they are?"
The crowd thought about that one for a bit . . . and then, one by one, they all found a good reason to be someplace else. Say you were a witness, after all, and you risked getting nailed as a liar -- and not one of the people there was willing to take that chance.
Finally, nobody was left except the woman -- still snuffling a little.
"Look around, sweetheart," I said to her. "You see any witnesses?"
"Just you," she said. "Are you going to condemn me?"
"Not my job," I said to her. "Now go on home -- and let that be a lesson to you."