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Reflection Title: 
More Than a Moralist
Reflection Content: 

 “Jesus was never less than a moralist and always more than a moralist. Jesus forgave as no moralist can and made a demand greater than any moralist would.” This story and this painting highlight the tension in Jesus’ teaching; he did not ignore the moral order necessary to hold society together, but instead he called for a proper understanding of its boundaries and interests. Jesus recognized that no moral system is large and supple enough to speak into the passions of a single human being. Moral systems define the good central to a society. By making the judgments that flow from caring for that good, we cast those who have sinned against it into outer darkness. The accusers came to Jesus on a mission of judgment and condemnation, determined to protect the society. Jesus came on a healing mission, knowing that all human beings, at least in their heart and mind, have broken with what the law aspires to. He acted to restore broken relationship, heal the wounds that gave rise to breaking the law, and show that the love of God was greater than all missing of the mark. 

Story Title: 
Neither Do I Condemn
Story Content: 

And the scribes and the Pharisees brought to Him a woman who had been caught in adultery. And after they made her stand in the midst, they say to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught committing adultery, in the very act. “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us to stone such women. Thou therefore, what sayest Thou?” But this they were saying, putting Him to the test, in order that they may have an accusation against Him. But Jesus, having stooped down, was writing with His finger on the ground. And as they continued questioning Him, He lifted up Himself and said to them, “The one who is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her.” And again He stooped down and was writing on the ground. But after they heard and were convicted by their conscience, they were going out one by one, beginning from the eldest. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman being in the midst. And after Jesus lifted up Himself, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of thine? Did no one condemn thee?” And she said, “No one, Sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and henceforth no longer go on sinning.”

—John 8:3–11

Contemporary Story Title: 
Between Decay and Rigor Mortis
Contemporary Story Content: 

Orson Scott Card is the well-known American author of the science fiction novels, Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, for which he has won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He is an English professor at Southern Virginia University, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Speaker for the Dead (1991), Card offers his religious commentary in a modern retelling of the biblical story of the woman taken in adultery: 


A great rabbi stands teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death. 

    The rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears, and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. “Is there anyone here,” he says to them, “who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?”

    They murmur and say, “We all know desire. But Rabbi, none of us has acted on it.”

    The rabbi says, “Then kneel down and give thanks that God made you strong.” He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the marketplace. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, “Tell the lord magistrate who saved his mistress. Then he’ll know I’m his loyal servant.”

    So the woman lives, because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

    Another rabbi, another city. He goes to her and stops the mob, as in the other story, and says, “Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.”

    The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. Someday, they think, I may be like this woman, and I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her the way I wish to be treated.

    As they open their hands and let the stones fall to the ground, the rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head, and throws it straight down with all his might. It crushes her skull and dashes her brains onto the cobblestones.

    “Nor am I without sin,” he says to the people.  “But if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead and our city with it.”

    So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

    The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis, and when they veer too far, they die. Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him.

—Orson Scott Card, (born 1951). Speaker for the Dead

Artwork Title: 
Standing with the Accused
Artwork Content: 

This narrative of the adulterous woman comes from the Gospel of John. In the story, a woman is accused of adultery, a crime punishable with death by stoning. The woman is brought by her accusers to the Rabbi Jesus. Jesus responds to their accusations by saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The artist of this painting, Lucas Cranach the Younger, was a German Renaissance artist of considerable reputation prior to the Reformation. He was deeply moved by Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) teaching on God’s grace and forgiveness, and joined the emerging Protestant church. Several of his works depict biblical narratives that portray the emerging Christian emphasis on divine grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Jesus is shown holding the hand of the accused woman, in a loving gesture of compassion. Notice that in the expressions and aggressive gestures of the accusers surrounding the woman and Jesus creates a claustrophobic sense of judgment. One accuser is prepared, already holding a stone in his hands. The scene in the painting is also noteworthy for its intimate portrayal at the exclusion of extraneous narrative detail. Cranach focuses our concentration on this moment of encounter, a moment when compassion disarms accusation, judgment, and death.

—Carl C. Christensen, Art and the Reformation in Germany. 

Question Title: 
Where are my accusers?
Question Content: 

No Longer Bowed Down

But Jesus judged me not. He laid shame upon those who would have had me shamed, and He reproached them.

And after that all the tasteless fruit of life turned sweet to my mouth, and the scentless blossoms breathed fragrance into my nostrils. I became a woman without a tainted memory, and I was free, and my head was no longer bowed down.

—Kahlil Gibran, (1883-1931)

Judgment Reshapes

Where are you in this painting? Where do you stand in moments of accusation, when the crowd gathers and agrees who is at fault, and is ready to condemn and cast out? Have you taken the hand of the accused, stood in solidarity no matter what the crime? Have you stood between the crowd and the person under indictment? Have you been part of the crowd, indulging in the fantasy of a “pure” community that needs to be purified by standing up then standing against those who are caught in the passions of their own making? Has judgment reshaped your face as compassion reshapes the moment of terror?

Music Content: 

Si iniquitates observaveris

Samuel Wesley (1766–1837) was a son of the noted Methodist hymn writer, Charles Wesley. At the age of eighteen he converted to Roman Catholicism, and wrote many liturgical compositions for the Latin liturgy. “Si iniquitates” is an antiphon from the Office for the Dead.

“Si iniquitates observaveris.” Samuel Wesley, The Worlds Above, The Choir of Grace Cathedral San Francisco, John Fenstermaker, director, Gothic 1996. Track 9.


Forgive Them, Father

“Forgive Them Father.” Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill, Ruffhouse Records 1998. Track 10.



“Justice.” Bruce Cockburn, Inner City Front, Golden Mountain Music 1981, remastered by Rounder Records 2002. Track 7.

Image Theme: 
Image Thumbnail: 
Image Summary: 

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, after 1532. Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1515–1586. 

Story Audio: 
Contemporary Story Audio: 

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