Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”John 7:53-8:11
Benjamin Disraeli, the former prime minister of England, once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
If statistics tell us anything, it is that almost everyone lies. And almost everyone tells damned lies. This particular passage of scripture presents us with numerous examples of the various forms of lies, from fabrications, to lies of omission, to lies of broken promises. Any time you speak of betrayal, you are really speaking about the existence of a lie. And what is a lie, but a seed of deception born in a heart of desperation and the desire to claim a worthiness that comes from external affirmation, rather than the knowledge that we are all made in the image of God.
If we look to the book of Susanna, we can find a story of deception, of lies and betrayal, all built on the desires of two lecherous old men. They tried to force a young woman into sleeping with them by threatening to stain her character – by claiming she slept with another, younger man other than her husband. Susanna considered their threat, and knew that it would mean her death to sleep with these old men, as well as death to be accused of it. But nevertheless, she chose to fall into their trap, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.1 So, the old men followed through on their threat, and, because they were elders in the community, their lie was viewed as the truth. Susanna was brought to trial for her alleged infidelity, but she appealed to God2, and God, through a young man named Daniel, ripped off the veil of their lies and brought these two old men to their own shame. All because they wanted to control and manipulate another person for their own pleasure, using their position of respect within the community to do so.
These men didn’t realize that if you are going to fabricate a lie, you need to tell twenty more to maintain that lie. Eventually, the truth will out you.
Susanna. A woman, accused of infidelity, but saved by God’s truth.
The reading above, tells an almost opposite story. One of a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Here we have the lie of a broken promise – the promise of fidelity – coupled with lies of omission and lies of fabrication, most likely, to maintain the secrecy of this activity over time. Think of the broken trust between her and her husband, and the broken trust between her and her children, brothers, sisters, family members. With that level of deceit it might stand to reason that her husband and some of her family wanted her dead too – for the hurt and anger she caused them. Those in her immediate circle would feel the betrayal, and feel the anger her behavior had caused them.
But what of the others? What of the scribes? What of the Pharisees? Is their own deception any better? Any worse? Or even, any different from this woman’s?
What of the scribes and Pharisees? We see Jesus teaching in the temple courts. The Pharisees arrive with this woman and state a truth: “Our laws state that she should be put to death,” but they tell this truth in an effort to cover up their own deception: that their intent was to entrap Jesus, so that they could accuse him of teaching contrary to their laws. Their lie needed to sound plausible, if only to cover up that they could find no fault in Jesus, and instead feared the loss of power and prestige that his teaching might cause them.
Instead of responding to their question, Jesus begins to write in the dirt, and finally says, “Let anyone of you here who is without sin, throw the first stone at her.” And then he keeps writing.
Slowly, one by one, from the oldest first to the younger, all begin to walk away.
And so, a woman caught in adultery is also saved by God’s truth. By God’s truth ripping away the lies these scribes and Pharisees held so dear.
The lie they told themselves that maintaining power and prestige at all costs was the most important thing. The lie they told themselves that their own sins were not as wicked or destructive as this woman’s betrayal of her marriage vows. The lie they told themselves that their estimation of their own righteousness meant that God valued their lives more than hers. Or, more importantly, the lie they told themselves that God hated the woman’s sin more than God hated theirs.
Every lie is a betrayal. And the lies we tell ourselves are the greatest betrayal of all, because they deny the image of the divine within us.
In his book, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.
God is the very essence of love, and when we live our lives without funneling that love to the world, then we betray the image of God in both ourselves, and in others. When we live our lives without love, we begin to live in the lie that there are rankings of sin, and gradations of righteousness, and levels of purity that define our worth in the eyes of God.
We should always create laws to hold people accountable for actions harmful to the freedom and autonomy of others, but when we cease to love, then we are more likely to create laws that would merely seek to control others for the sake of our own desires and illusions of power. We become more likely to create laws that deny some people their very existence, based not on wrong actions, but rather, on wrong being. Rather than seeking to love and understand them, we instead dare to question the very existence of the image of God within them.
And from that question, it is an incredibly small step to creating laws based on ever increasing levels of hate, and with ever increasing punishments, up to the point where we may claim it is legal to stone to death those very people whom God has created, simply for being different.
Until one day, we find ourselves on the receiving end of that thorny spear of self-righteousness, and find ourselves facing a mob of angry, stone wielding lovers of God, simply because we no longer find ourselves among the acceptable.
Warm and fuzzy stuff, isn’t it?
But it really is. It really is.
God came to the aid of Susannah by allowing the young man Daniel to expose the truth from the lies. Jesus came to the aid of this woman caught in the act of adultery, and offered her no condemnation, instead exposing the lies of self-righteousness within those who would condemn her.
We may yet betray God, by believing the lies we tell ourselves, and failing to love. We may yet betray God. And God can come to our aid too, exposing the lies we tell ourselves and which lead us away from God’s mercy and love. Like Susanna, we need only appeal to God, remembering that the truth, as painful as it might be, will always set us truly free.
Just like the woman caught in the act of adultery, there will be no condemnation, merely God’s request to sin no more. To sin no more means that we must refocus our minds on the truth that God is Love, and that the spark of the Divine rests within everyone we meet. If we can focus on this, then we will see the other as a child of God, made in God’s own image, and we will seek to understand, and seek to grow in love.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.Philippians 1:9-11
- Susanna, vs. 22-23
- Susanna, vs. 35
Mike is a jack of all trades. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023.