Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

A feverish look shines from the eyes of a young woman as three men in cloaks of fine linen march her into the village square. Her skin is the color of olives; her long, dark hair is not plaited. She wears a plain robe woven from wool and on her feet sandals of leather. Derisive catcalls and cries of “Adulterer!” “Harlot!” greet her from the gauntlet through which she is pushed and prodded. The white disk of the noonday sun allows no forgiving shadows.

The local Inquisitors are using the young woman as bait, setting a trap to ensnare an itinerant rabbi from far-off Nazareth, who teaches in parables and dares to question their authority. They confront him as he stands near the well, observing the trial about to begin. The laws of Moses command that adulterers be stoned, they taunt him, what say you about this one?

Jesus knows his foes well, these thin-lipped dogmatists of the letter of the law. In all their studies of the prophets, they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. He has foiled their stratagems before, and he regards them with an expressionless scorn. The crowd impatiently awaits his reply. Stones in hand, they have their work to do.

Jesus does not speak immediately, but instead waits for the words to come to him. He looks over the crowd and says in a voice that carries to the far side of the square: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”

Jesus fixes a steady gaze on the Inquisitors, as their smirk of arrogance fades. Those among the crowd who a minute ago were crying for the woman’s blood now have silent tongues. The faintest of breezes rustles the leaves on the sycamore trees. Somewhere in the distance, a child cries. The Pharisees are reduced to shuffling away in silence; not a word of response have they spoken. They are convicted by their own consciences. The crowd disperses, pondering Jesus’ words. “What does it mean?” a voice asks. No one has a ready answer.

The young woman alone remains with Jesus. She stands silently, in a daze. The cold sweat trickles down her back. I do not condemn you, Jesus says, and she feels the strength returning to her legs. She begins to weep, as relief flows through her like a river. But Jesus is not one for situational ethics. He places a hand on her shoulder and says, “Go, and sin no more.” Before leaving, the woman gets a cool cup of water from the well and offers it to Jesus. He smiles, but with sadness in his eyes, and thanks her.

For one sun bleached afternoon, the law tempered with mercy is redeemed from the ones with bloodless lips who would see it etched into stone. Jesus has spared a woman who broke one of Moses’ laws; in so doing, he has invited the wrath of the patriarchs. Jesus knows that soon they will have their day.

5 thoughts on “Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

    1. Tom Schultz Post author

      not far from here and near an arboretum that’s part of the University of Michigan. As an addendum to your 1960s history: Tom Hayden, who wrote the Port Huron Statement, and most of the founding members of Students for a Democratic Society went to U of MIch. Port Huron is a small Michigan town across the river from Sarnia and at the time of the Statement the UAW ran a facility there.

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      1. Tom Schultz Post author

        In 1962, Tom Hayden was just back from spending a summer in Mississippi working for civil rights. This could be quite a dangerous endeavor then (as you’ve probably read); I’m pretty sure Hayden was beaten up and maybe jailed for his efforts. But, as you read he was not deterred

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