So let's reimagine this story of Jesus and the sinful woman with the understanding that this is not actually about sex, but about covenantal fidelity and the people of God.
There is a sense that a "loose" woman in those days might possibly be held accountable for what she entices a man to do, but that's not present in this narrative; the Pharisees drag her before Jesus for her own unfaithfulness, not for what she convinced a man - who is nowhere to be seen - to do with her. She is not even accused of being a loose woman in the way that we would expect; she is just a woman caught in the act of unfaithfulness.
If you listen close, you can almost hear the Pharisee's question ring out with the same indignation with which they have asked Jesus in other places why His disciples don't fast and how they can possibly fathom eating without washing their hands. Tenderly, He has explained to them the nuances of love, which they have all but lost in the cut-and-dried nature of the law that they hold so fast to. Gently, He will do so again.
He bends down and starts doodling in the dirt, and I think it's because He wants them all to just stand there for a minute. He wants them to see the way that the unfaithful woman stands - hypervigilant to the presence of those who would condemn her, one hopeful eye on the One who could redeem her. There stand the experts, the high and mighty, the haughty, looking impatiently at Him. There stands the caught, the unfaithful, the sinner, looking tearfully at Him. He wants them to feel the tension in this moment.
And then He tears it wide open. Those who would condemn are being condemned. Those who have exposed the sin of another are being exposed. And they cannot bear it. One by one, they turn and walk away. Sullen. Silent. Sulking. This was not the plan. This was not the request. They wanted to see Him do one holy thing and condemn the lawbreaker, the covenant-defier, the unfaithful, but He has condemned only them, the experts, the hypocrites.
This is such an interesting and beautiful moment. By the time He looks up from the dust on the ground, all that remains is the unfaithful woman. The one person in all of this who had the most interest in turning away, in running away, in getting away is the only one who remains, and it doesn't sound like she has any intention of going anywhere. Her eyes still plead with Him for one ounce of mercy, one token of vindication. Something, anything that will tell her that something holy is happening here.
And it happens. This man, who should never be talking to a woman, particularly not alone; this covenant-keeper, who should have nothing to do with this covenant-breaker; faith personified, who should be at least weary, if not wary, of this unfaithful woman, attends to her with the fullest measure of both mercy and grace, tenderness and dignity.
Because what's really happening here is what all Israel needs to know - no matter how unfaithful you've been as the people of God, everything has changed right here, right now, as God Himself kneels in the dirt beside you. The very presence of God in the person of Jesus changes what unfaithful means.
And it is demonstrated clearly in this one - this one so-called unfaithful woman - who cannot turn away, even though she has every earthly reason to do so.
But we're not done. Oh, no - not by a long shot. Stay tuned.