A Love that Scatters Snares

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A Love that Scatters Snares

Have you ever been the victim of a hateful snare? I am going to guess yes. Not because I know you, but because I know a little about human nature. Life throws us surprises, and in the many days and nights of our breath, a chain of events will at some point or another bring us on the threshold of duplicity. We may even be the ones casting the bait. Whichever side of such a plot you find yourself, here is a Bible story that speaks to it.

 

2Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

7So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” 12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. (John 8:2-11, NKJV)

 

The scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus. Not because He had said or done anything wrong to them. They hated Jesus because of who He was and what He preached. They hated Jesus because He called people to accountability, to recognize their sins, and to repent. They hated Jesus because He stayed unabated on His mission path, and that path conflicted with their expectations and desires of who Messiah would be. He didn’t fit the mold, and therefore they had to dispose of Him.

 

In their relentless hatred towards Jesus, some Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus, if possible, by murder. Towards this end, they devised a perfidious plot: while Jesus was teaching at the Temple, they brought to him a woman caught in adultery and sought to extract a sentence from Him. According to the Law of Moses, the woman’s sin required death by stoning. By Roman laws, however, Jesus had no authority to instigate death. Either way He answered, they would find a reason to accuse Him.

 

Should He acquit the woman, He might be charged with despising the law of Moses. Should He declare her worthy of death, He could be accused to the Romans as one who was assuming authority that belonged only to them.[1]

 

As one who could “read the heart, and knew the character and life history of everyone in His presence,”[2] Jesus immediately grasped the real interest of the Pharisees. They had not come to enact justice, but to ensnare Him. Their very concept of justice, as this episode proves, was tainted. To double up on sin, they hid their true motives behind a façade of reverence. This is the very nature of duplicity: appearing to be or do something good, when one’s motives are in fact selfish and evil.

 

So determined where they to get their will across, and so lost in their misunderstanding of who Jesus truly was, that they were willing to not only cheat their way into accomplishing their goal, but in the process destroy a woman’s reputation, and possibly cause her death. The entire story was a charade meant to trap Jesus, and this woman was being sacrificed without any qualms. Furthermore, the inspired writings tell us that “[t]hese would-be guardians of justice had themselves led their victim into sin, that they might lay a snare for Jesus.”[3] Not the kind of people you’d want to be around, right? Not the kind of people you’d want to be either, I hope.

 

To round-up the picture of these so-called custodians of uprightness, let’s also bring up the fact that, as Ellen White illuminates us, the rabbis, “[w]ith all their professions of reverence for the law… were disregarding its provisions. It was the husband’s duty to take action against her, and the guilty parties were to be punished equally. The action of the accusers was wholly unauthorized.”[4] In other words, it wasn’t their right or business to mingle in this affair. But any opportunity would do for those who lack scruples.

 

Layers upon layers of sin and deception stand upon the scribes and Pharisees in their attempt to discredit Jesus. Their folded efforts prove them all the more foolish though. Humans are no match for the Son of God. The creature cannot snare the Creator. Jesus was superior in character and intelligence, and the projected outcome was overturned by means utterly outside the deceivers’ foresight. As the story goes on, we learn that not only Jesus escapes the trap, but in the process, He brings hope to everyone. Only God could devise such wise words and actions by which He can reach out to perpetrator and victim alike in a redemptive way.

 

Without speaking, Jesus stoops down and begins to write. Two key words the narrator uses in this story are verbs of perception: “hear” and “see”. When the Pharisees interrupt Jesus’ teaching with an accusation and question, He acts as if He did not hear them (verse 6). The Pharisees, on the other hand, hear the words He addresses to them and leave the room one by one, convicted of their own sin. When all are gone, Jesus sees the woman and acquits her, urging her to sin no more (verse 10-11).

The narrator’s use of the verbs “hear” and “see” evoke perception, and rightly so, for the entire story is enveloped in nonverbal hints of understanding and underlying messages. To the hidden motifs of the Pharisees, Jesus responds with a coded message. Nothing is openly stated, yet everyone understands what they need to understand. It’s as if these two verbs are the pillars upon which the plot is built. In the first part of the story, the woman is as if unseen by Jesus—though she was present—and the Pharisees are as if unheard. Instead of hearing them, Jesus wants to be heard and makes Himself heard through silent action and oblique speech. When the Pharisees do hear Jesus, they leave, and thus Jesus can free from immediate punishment the woman He now sees.

 

The story also includes several verbs of motion. Jesus comes into the temple and sits down to teach those who came to Him. The scribes and Pharisees interrupt Jesus to question Him about the adulterous woman they brought in. In response, Jesus enters a series of repeated motions of stooping down and raising Himself up. No further movement of the accusers is recorded until their departure one by one. The difference between their united and rather abrupt entering on the scene and the slow and separated departure parallels the escalating and de-escalating tension the reader experiences as she follows the plot. Through a crafty combination of insinuating motion and speech, Jesus unties a knotty dilemma and brings resolution.

 

He alone, being without sin, is qualified to both cast the first stone, as well as acquit sinful humans. He chooses the later. The repeated actions of stooping down and raising Himself up could symbolically point to His ministry of redemption. It is in virtue of lowering Himself twice–through incarnation and burial—and being raised up twice–at crucifixion and resurrection–that He is, in fact, able to let go uncondemned, not only the adulterous woman, but the sinful Pharisees as well.

 

Both the perpetrators and the victim walk away; the victim freed of the shame and guilt of her acts, now public, which she confessed;[5] the perpetrators filled with the unconfessed shame and the guilt of their “hidden iniquity.”[6]

 

While [Jesus] does not palliate sin, nor lessen the sense of guilt, He seeks not to condemn, but to save.[7]

 

Jesus does not publicly expose the hidden sins of the Pharisees, as they had exposed the woman’s sin. In doing so, He offers an outstanding manifestation of grace and wisdom. His purpose was not to shame but to redeem. He misses no opportunity to orient any sinner towards God by demonstrating God’s true character.

 

As for the woman, what was meant as a snare to Jesus, becomes an opportunity for her own redemption.

 

This was to her the beginning of a new life, a life of purity and peace, devoted to the service of God. In the uplifting of this fallen soul, Jesus performed a greater miracle than in healing the most grievous physical disease; He cured the spiritual malady which is unto death everlasting.[8]

 

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Perhaps you have been the victim of evil and selfish intentions. Perhaps you have plotted evil and selfish acts. What I do know is that God is the same today as He was when He walked on earth. I know that His desire is the same for you as it was for the plotters and the victim John wrote about. He wishes to save you for eternity. His purposes extend beyond the short life we get on this earth.

 

Will you let Him work in your life? He knows what you need, and will not hold back in offering you just that. Any change His intervention implies in your life will be worth it–both for the here and now, and for the eternity beyond. I pray that love will prevail over evil and that God’s grace will be a healing touch on wounds in need of divine aid.

______

Notes.

[1] Ellen White, Desire of Ages (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1898), p. 460-461.

[2] Ibid., p. 461.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 462.

[6] Ibid., p. 461.

[7] Ibid., p. 462.

[8] Ibid.

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Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.