Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Adultery and the Cocktail Hour

Do you ever wonder about the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery? What happened to the man who was caught with her?

I’m sure many of us have asked that question. If, as the old adage says, “it takes two to tango,” where was her dance partner? Was he not equally guilty? Of course he was. According to Leviticus 20:10, “both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”

Picking up the story

Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery [talk about embarrassing!]. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8: 1-11; The Message)

The cocktail hour

As some of us reflected upon this story one evening, we found ourselves also discussing a related passage of Scripture that in some Bibles has been subtitled as “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife” (perhaps there also needs to be a test for an unfaithful husband).

To paraphrase this, basically the way it worked was, if a husband suspected that his wife was unfaithful, he could take her to the priest who would mix up a concoction of holy water with the dust from the tabernacle floor. The priest would then put the woman under oath as he pronounced a curse. She was then made to drink the cocktail of holy water and dirt, and if she was guilty of adultery, her thigh would waste away and her abdomen would swell as proof of her infidelity. If, on the other hand, she was not guilty of being unfaithful to her husband, no harm would come to her from drinking the muddy water (Numbers 5: 11-31).

Suddenly we noticed that here was Jesus writing in the dirt, perhaps in some of the same dirt that had once been carried out of the tabernacle floor by the sandals of countless people. Let’s take this a step further. Here was Jesus, the Living Water (John 4:10), stirring up the dirt and making the poor woman’s accusers drink their accusations. Wow!

Sit down and have a drink … of Living Water

Philip Yancey once said, “Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do.” C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Are you sinless? Do you have something to forgive? Hmm.

Maybe in one way we’re all guilty of adultery. Jesus said, “You heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But as for myself, I am saying to you, Everyone who is looking at a woman in order to indulge his sexual passion for her, already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28; Kenneth Wuest, “An Expanded Translation”)

If I even look at another woman with lust in my eyes, Jesus says I am an adulterer. Likewise, if a woman even looks at a man with lust in her eyes, she too is an adulteress just as surely as if she had actually slept with him. That’s a somewhat sobering thought, isn’t it?

Perhaps next time we’re inclined to be a little too self-righteous, be it concerning sexual sin or some other sin that we think we see in others, we may need to stop and have a cocktail of Living Water and tabernacle dust. What is the Lord saying to us as He writes in the dirt of our lives? Before we throw too many stones because of our perceived shortcomings of others, stop and have a drink of what Jesus is offering. If He has not condemned, then dare we?

May they go in peace and sin no more, and may we do likewise. Something to think about.


  1. Amen.

    I've often wondered if Jesus wasn't writing the names of the accusers' mistresses in the dirt. ;^P