Unexpected Consequences

A Twilight Musing

The dramatic confrontation in John 8, between Jesus, an accused woman, and the Scribes and Pharisees who were her accusers, turned out quite contrary to the expectations of both the woman and her accusers. The catalyst for this complete reversal was the piercing words of Jesus directed at the accusers: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” This saying has borne the fruit of many a reference to someone’s being disqualified from “casting the first stone,” referring to the vulnerability of those who self-righteously indict others. It’s fairly easy to picture the accusers drifting away one by one, since their leaving is described in the passage. But since we have no information about the adulterous woman’s departure from Jesus, we can only imagine it, and I have tried to do so in the first of the two poems below. The strongest set of inferences to be drawn about the woman from this passage is that when she was hauled by the Scribes and Pharisees before Jesus, she must have feared for her life; and that after the episode she felt great relief at departing not only physically unharmed, but spiritually delivered. Like so many who encountered the Master, He had more to give than she knew how to expect. But I have gone beyond those reactions on her part to postulate how she felt at having now not only to continue living, but to redefine what it meant for her to live after Jesus told her to “go, and from now on sin no more.”

Depicting what the defeated and deflated accusers must have felt as they left is of course from a perspective quite different from the woman’s, and I have attempted that in the second poem below. I have assumed that shock and wounded pride would have been at the core of their feelings and thoughts, but I have also hinted at the possibility that there may have been a glimmer of acquired self-knowledge. Common to both poems is astonishment at the unexpected outcome of the encounter.

Reprieve (John 8:3-11)

Out of the circle of death I walk, Alone at the center when I came, Alone with Him when I left. Bereft of hope, I stood accused By all but the Teacher. Accusers became the accused, Standing, stones in hand, triumphant In night-time raid and dawn indictment, Then melting away in single shame, Till none remained when the Master looked up. Only when He spoke did I meet His eyes, Full of beautiful severity. As ugly the sin as it was before, But condemnation gone! Reproach was swallowed up In “Go, and sin no more.”

No backup plan for being stoned, I walk toward home to find my way again. Old way of life must now be buried, As--rising from forgiveness— His love replaces carnal lust. Unjust escape from penalty say those Who hide behind the Law, But blissful boon to her who heard The quieter voice Replacing heartless rage.

Convicted (John 8:3-11)

We slink away, heads hung in shame, With tongues and hands disarmed By flash of sin reversed; Not one of us had conscience clear Enough to start the slaughter. We came to trap him in his words, Yet our words became our snare. He turned on us the double-cutting sword Of Law-based righteousness, And bleeding now we leave the field, Our cleverness in ashes.

Image: Vasily Polenov "A Depiction of a Woman Caught in Adultery" Public Domain. 


Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)