The Rev. Dr. Wesley Hill
One of the most striking parts of this story comes at the very end. After the hostile crowd has dispersed, Jesus is alone with the woman who has been accused of violating God’s law. All of the men who had been ready to hurl stones at her, to penalize her with death, have gone away, and Jesus, underscoring what has just happened, asks the woman: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She shakes her head. “No one, sir.” And then Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
I suspect that many of us would have been more prepared to hear Jesus reverse the order of those sentences: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again. Then I will not condemn you.” In other words, many of us probably expect to receive the verdict of “No condemnation” only after we’ve earned it, after we’ve proved our mettle by keeping our noses clean.
But Jesus offers forgiveness and the assurance that the judgment against the woman has been taken away, and only then does he call her out of a life of sinful behavior. Mercy comes first, because only when we know that we’ve received mercy can we begin to learn what it might mean to live a new life of virtue and goodness.
The Rev. Dr. Wesley Hill is an assisting priest at Trinity Cathedral and an associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is the author most recently of The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father (Lexham Press, 2019).