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Fall Quarter 2023: God’s Law Is Love
Unit 1: Love Completes; Law Falls Short
Sunday School Lesson for the week of September 24, 2023
By Craig Rikard
Background Scripture John 8:1-11, 56-59
Key Text: John 8:11b
1. To realize the importance of geography in studying the Bible.
2. To understand the role and status of women in the biblical era.
3. The wisdom of Jesus in responding to the Pharisees.
4. To recognize Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and grace.
5. To acknowledge Jesus is the great “I Am!”
But Jesus Went to the Mount of Olives
Our narrative begins with the conjunction “but,” which usually indicates a contrast or a “turning of direction.” The Pharisees are upset and condescending. They asked the temple guards why they didn’t seize Jesus and bring him to the Pharisees. They considered his teaching dangerous. The guards answered, “there was something about the way he spoke.” The Pharisees were livid. They used themselves as the example of wisdom of knowledge. “Do any of us believe he is a prophet or Messiah?” They were implying that if learned men like them did not believe in Jesus, how dare the crowd believe Jesus was a prophet, or worse, Messiah.
Pride is the sin that blinds. How does the pride of the Pharisees hinder them from listening to Jesus? How can our pride dull our spiritual hearing?
Obviously, Jesus’ words and actions were not going to be received by the Pharisees. From a human perspective, it would prove better if Jesus returned to the masses in Galilee. He would continue to receive criticism and suffer plots on his life from the area around Jerusalem. BUT he went to the Mount of Olives.
Why do you think John used the conjunction “but?” What was the “turn in direction” related to Jesus’ travel to Jerusalem?
In holy Scripture, the Mount of Olives possesses great spiritual significance. The mount itself is a range of mounts with three peaks on the eastern side of Jerusalem. From its summit one can gains a panoramic view of Jerusalem. In Old Testament prophesy, Zachariah writes in chapter 14 that it is the place where the Messiah will arrive, splitting the mount in two. It is interesting to note that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time, he descended the Mount of Olives. The olive trees along the mount provided olive oil for hundreds of years and was used for the anointing of kings as well as other practical uses.
Several high and holy moments occurred on the Mount of Olives. Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus in Bethany, along the Mount of Olives. Jesus often prayed on the mount and used the Garden of Gethsemane for a place of prayer. Here he would pray, be arrested, and be taken to Jerusalem for trial. It was a garden of temptation in that Jesus sweats drops of blood, praying, “if there is any way this cup can pass from me.” However, he finished his prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” The Garden was a most fitting place for Jesus to pray. The Olive Tree is indestructible and will always grow back. As he faced his death, it was certainly a good metaphor of hope, for he too would rise again.
In what ways do you think the Mount of Olives would comfort and embolden Jesus? Do you have a place through which you find spiritual comfort, hope, and courage? Can you share what it is about the place that makes it spiritually significant to you?
In relation to Old Testament prophesy, Jesus rode down the mount as the crowds place their garments and palm branches before him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The hope of the world prayed on the mount and descended to redeem the world!
Jesus’ choice to travel to the Mount of Olives versus returning home to Galilee reveals that he will not allow the criticisms and accusations to define him. He is the Messiah. He chooses not to run from his calling but rather to fulfill it. It reveals great trust in God for the Lord will need to protect him and cover him with providential care. Again, the use of the conjunction “but” reveals that this was a choice Jesus made. He could have returned home, but he chose to reveal truth in an area to those whose pride blinded them to the redemptive workings of God.
What do you think is meant by the phrase “people trying to define who you are”?
Walking Through the Text
Jesus in the Temple Courts
Jesus had taught earlier in the courts. Jesus usually taught in the Court of the Gentiles. Gentiles were allowed to set foot in this area. There was a lot of commerce being done in this court, such as money-changing. Sacrificial animals were also sold. One might expect Jesus to teach in the holier areas of the temple than this place of common people, foreign people, and commerce. Yet, when one considers the ministry of Jesus, it is exactly where he would be. His teachings and message were never meant solely for the Jews. He proclaimed God’s mercy and redemption of the world. Furthermore, the good news must be taken into “the highways and byways.” People in the marketplace of life need the gospel as much as those in the sacred places. The Temple was constructed in a manner in which everyone knew their place. Jesus did know his place. His place wasn’t just in the holy areas of the temple. His place was among the needy, hungry, and seeking of the world.
A group had gathered around Jesus to hear him. Suddenly, an interruption occurred. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law had caught a woman in the act of adultery. They had no interest in hearing Jesus, but they were interested in how Jesus would handle the woman. She had violated Mosaic Law. Would Jesus overlook it?
What does it mean to you that Jesus chose the Gentile Court to teach? How is Jesus’ use of the Gentile Court consistent with his ministry and proclamations?
The Adulterous Woman
We know little about the woman, not even her name. To the elite in Jewish society, she is a “non-entity.” She doesn’t matter. Jesus has journeyed down a sacred mount to a sacred place in the temple only to encounter a moment lacking compassion and care, teeming with judgement, condescension, and shame. Though we know little about the woman there are certain dynamics in Judaism and Jewish culture that help us understand her possible background.
First, women often did not marry for love. They had little say in whom they married. Women were considered property. Notice in our traditional wedding ritual the question is asked, “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” There is not a question as to who gives the man to the woman. Of course, today most do not understand the ritual in that manner, but in Jesus’ day they were property. Having a daughter did not mean the family did not love her. However, one of the benefits cited for having a daughter was the dowery the family would be paid to marry her to another. The marriage was almost always arranged without her input.
Women were expected to “run the household” (cook, get water, clean, raise children, etc.). However, one of demands upon a woman was to give birth to a son. Sons carried on the family name and inherited the birthright. If a woman did not give birth to a son she could be divorced, again, without a say in the matter. A bill of divorce could be issued, and that was that. The husband could remarry; she could not. They would return to their family of origin or become a servant of another. Sadly, many were forced into prostitution in order to eat and live.
The woman in our narrative was “caught in adultery.” She was taken to the religious leaders, but they had another use for her. They would bring her before Jesus and seek to entrap him. She had violated the Mosaic Law, earning the penalty of death. Notice the choice of words on part of the Pharisees, “Moses commanded us to stone such women
.” In the mind of the Pharisees, she was just another woman, a sinful woman, one of those women.
Paul was a former Pharisee prior to his conversion. How powerful and remarkable do you think Paul’s statement, “In Christ there is no male or female,” was and is? Can you name examples in which Jesus elevated the importance and worth of women in life? Do you think women still are often treated as “less than” their male counterparts? Since all are equal in Christ, what are some actions we can take today to elevate the life of women and assure them of their sacred worth?
One of the most interesting and upsetting questions the story raises is, “Where is the man?” The woman was caught, implying found with the man. Yet, he isn’t there. She is the one who will suffer. She is the one who will bear the shame. She is the one who will die. Most difficult to understand is that she will die “in the name of justice and righteousness.” There is nothing just or right about their treatment of the woman. The woman is indeed guilty, but their treatment of her tosses the Shema (Deut. 6:4) out the window. Her death will mean little or nothing to the Pharisees. From their perspective, the religious community will have one less sinner to corrupt their holy manner of living. She meant far more than that to Jesus.
How does the absence of the man say about the injustice of the moment? How do we reconcile the fact that they were acting within the confines of Mosaic Law yet breaking the Shema in Deut. 6:4? Have you recognized such moral inconsistencies in life? Have you personally been involved in a moment that appears “legally” correct but wrong as it relates to the Shema?
Notice, she was brought to “stand before Jesus.” It wasn’t enough to deal with this matter in private. For the Pharisees, she needed to be shamed. In the Leviticus story of the scapegoat, the goat is chosen to bear the sins of the community. A scarlet cord is wrapped about its horns so everyone will recognize that he is the scapegoat. Notice, when a child drops a ball in a baseball game and the team loses, the child is immediately “marked” by some with pointed fingers and criticism. The child becomes the scapegoat for the entire team who were just as responsible for the loss. Certainly, they believed such shame served as a deterrent. By calling attention to her sin, they avoid any attention to their own. However, their major reason for bringing her publicly before Jesus was to entrap Jesus. Jesus was teaching in a public court in front of a crowd. Discrediting Jesus at that moment would ruin his ministry. In their minds, there was only one action Jesus should take: condemn her! However, they know of his teaching on compassion and knew of his treatment of the most needy and downcast. If Jesus acted with compassion, as usual, they could seize him for violating the Torah.
Can you identify the use of a scapegoat in today’s society? Have you ever felt “marked” and shamed? How do you think we treat someone who has fallen and sinned? How should we especially treat them in public? Though the woman is guilty, what does Jesus’ action reveal about love and grace?
Jesus Writes on the Ground
If you search for commentary on Jesus’ “writing on the ground” you will encounter “guesses” regarding what he wrote. John, in his gospel, did not employ the word “miracle.” Instead, he used the phrase “signs and wonders.” Everything Jesus said and did pointed to the Kingdom of God. If what Jesus actually wrote on the ground was important, John would have recorded it. He could have written something of importance, but there is no reaction from the Pharisees to the content of his writing.
What do you think is the danger of guessing and assuming what Jesus wrote when the text does not offer such information? Do you think we often “insert ourselves and our thought” into a biblical text? Is there possibly a “slippery slope” created when we insert ourselves?
Still, the symbolism of Jesus writing on the ground contains thoughtful considerations. First, Jesus used “the pause.” The accusation had been issued by the Pharisees. They are waiting for Jesus’ response. The response isn’t immediate. This is the moment he writes on the ground. He has shifted the thinking occurring in the moment. The words and thoughts of the Pharisees were filled with anger, judgement, and condemnation. Jesus now has changed the object of their attention. “What is he writing?” they must have wondered. Or, “What is he doing?” This pause allows those standing or sitting before him to “be on the edge of their seats.” “What is he going to say?” The emphasis is not on the accusation or the woman, it is on Jesus.
As we noted in earlier lessons, silence becomes uncomfortable. Therapist usually well know how to use silence in the treatment of an individual. The Pharisees respond to Jesus’ writing by continuing their onslaught of accusations. They are determined to pressure Jesus into answering. However, Jesus’ silence and writing on the ground has pressured them into repeating the accusation and expected consequences over and again. This moment leads me to think that the longer the Pharisees speak, the more their true heart of anger and intention to harm Jesus is exposed. Thus, the moment isn’t basically about the woman, it’s about Jesus!
Why do you think silence makes us uncomfortable? Silence is of value in meditation and prayer, but in human company it feels unnatural. Can you share a time when you were most uncomfortable in silence?
Jesus answers with a powerful, memorable challenge: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.” Then, he begins writing on the ground again. Jesus is letting his statement sink in. Those few words revealed compassion and love. He did not claim she wasn’t guilty. He did not claim her behavior is acceptable. Instead, he claims all are guilty of sin! Now, the onus is upon the Pharisees to disagree. Are the Pharisees going to claim they are sinless? If they have sin, then they have no right to take the life of the woman. What a wise, transforming statement by Jesus!
What does Jesus’ statement reveal about our judging another? Who has the right to judge? Has Jesus ever given us the role of judge and the power to make judgements about another? What is the difference between discernment and judgement?
The people began to leave. They knew Jesus’ claim was true. No one could throw a stone. Notice, as they left, the older ones left first. I believe it is almost always true that with age comes wisdom. They have experienced so much life, and pretty much know the nature of the heart. They were the “elders.” The judgement of the elders and elderly was most often deeply respected. Therefore, their being the first to leave spoke to those in the crowd about Jesus’ statement, “Yes, we are sinners, just like her.”
Do you consider our present culture respectful of its elderly? Does your church involve the elderly in decisions about ministry? Does your church care for its elderly and assure them of their sacred worth? Do you think it is possible for a church to become so “youth oriented” that ministry to the elderly is neglected?
Only Jesus and the woman were left. How powerful Jesus’ question must have been! It still is! Even the angry, condescending, plotting Pharisees had left. The gospel of Jesus was never complete in just recognizing sin. He now brings the good news to completion. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman responded, “No one, sir.” And then, the crowning proclamation from Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.” This moment had reached the climactic moment of utter forgiveness and new beginnings. God, through our conscience, confronts us with our sinful, destructive behavior. However, we are made aware of sin for the purpose of forgiveness and redirection. We are forgiven and empowered. There are two prepositions that enlighten us regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are saved from
our sin, and saved to
live in grace and love.
Why do you think it is important to note Jesus’ entire statement to the woman? Why should the good news never stop with pointing out sin? Do you think most people are aware of their sin? Do you think their major difficulty is to know what to do with their sin and what to do about a new direction in life?
As this lesson is concluded, we are left with the very essence of Christianity. It was not a great rabbi or prophet who forgave the woman. Jesus was and is the great “I Am!” When God was asked for his name in the Old Testament he answered, “I am that I am.” When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” he was openly claiming his divinity. He is Messiah, the Savior of the world!
Almighty God, forgive us from creating scapegoats in life. Still our tongue when we are tempted to speak judgement against another. Empower our tongue to speak hope, love, forgiveness, and life. Give us the wisdom to leave the stones on the ground and instead pick up the fallen. In Jesus name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.