Disarming the Accuser

Haftarah Reading: Shoftim (Isaiah 51:12-52:12)
Gospel Reading: John 8:1-11
Commentary by: Chris Mumford

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:7-11 ESV) 

When I was a baby one of my parents committed adultery. In my teens, it happened again and this time it led to the divorce of my parents. It then happened once more with a new step parent. Now in my late twenties, as the eldest son in a broken family, I still feel the influence of the traumas experienced in my teens and the pain these situations caused my entire family was at times overwhelming. 

Our Haftarah portion is the final Haftarah of Consolation from Isaiah and it contains a comparison of Israel to an unfaithful woman. This passage is among the Messianic prophecies for which Isaiah is well known in Christian theology (Isaiah 49-55). Isaiah makes a case regarding the unfaithfulness of Israel, the resulting exile to Babylon, and then turns to a message of comfort, hope, and restoration in a Messianic servant figure he calls Israel. Now the writers of the Gospel were familiar with these Messianic passages and draw on the imagery of Isaiah to make a case that Yeshua is the ideal Israel. They testify that Yeshua succeeded where Israel had failed and use many of the same concepts in their story. Paul makes a similar case regarding Adam and Messiah in 1 Corinthians 15. This concept of Yeshua being the ideal Israel is a part of the Messianic expectation and when we read the story we find that Yeshua treated the woman the same as God treated Israel in the text.

We’re not given all the details of the woman caught in adultery story. Was she married? Was the man she was with married and she was a prostitute? Were they both married? Was one of them unmarried? Where is the man? Why are the scribes and Pharisees bloodthirsty? Why does Yeshua not even entertain the idea that she is guilty? Why does he not apply the weight of the Torah and join them in taking this woman to the proper authorities as Moses instructed? I do find it unfortunate that many Messianics read this passage as an opportunity for Torah apologetics. Redirect your attention to what our Master does and the subtlety of the story. 

As Messianics we must remember our conviction: Yeshua is the greatest revelation of God and all authority is given to Him. What did Yeshua do in the Gospel? What do we expect from our Lord? I do not advocate that this woman committed or did not commit any sin and coincidently neither did the story. However, I encourage us to look at the way Yeshua disarmed her accusers and showed her mercy.

Life is complex. There is no pure sufferer and no pure antagonist. We injure and embrace. We are marvelous and foolish. Sometimes you find yourself doing things you never expected and sometimes you are everything you expected. Friends betray and loved ones let you down. All of us fail others and fail ourselves. We find “righteous” causes for which we can “justly” accuse our neighbor. Can we be bold enough to believe that God’s ultimate revelation of His justice is love and mercy purely expressed in Yeshua? Can we let go of our shame, fear, and guilt in hope to sin no more? Further, can we lay down our stones? Can we believe he will take away the fury of our oppressors and accusers? May it be our testimony.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10 ESV)