Can you imagine the scene? stories that most of us are familiar with. It is a beautiful example of the mixture of holiness and grace in the character of Christ. We see how Jesus deals with sinners, even ones who were caught in the very act and upon whom the law demanded death. Jesus was gentle with sinners but hard on sin, which is why he later goes to the cross to defeat the power of sin and death once and for all. Often time when we are teaching about mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we will refer to the example of Christ in this story.
However, the story of the woman caught in adultery was not a popular one in the first few centuries of the church. I am not sure if we would be able to fathom the extremely stringent requirements for repentance that existed during that time. If a Christian sinned, they were often required to do acts to show their penitence. These acts would sometimes last for years. For instance, one church leader required fifteen years of penitence of adulterers before being restored to the fellowship of the church. Another church leader never would re-admit them to fellowship. One lady traveled to Jerusalem and lived the rest of her days virtually as a hermit in men's clothing as a result of a sexual sin in her life.
In contrast, Jesus requires no rituals, no acts, no crossing of seas, climbing of mountains, etc. in order to obtain forgiveness. He simply tells the woman, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." Some church leaders were suspicious of the authenticity of this story because it seemed that Jesus was being soft on sin. Some would not refer to it. On the other hand, there were other church leaders who pointed to this story and strongly urged shepherds throughout the church to refrain from being too hard on those coming for repentance. They should take the example of Christ, accept the repentant one and help them to keep from falling back into sin.
This is a reminder everyone needs from time to time. We are all in the same boat. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This should cause us to live with compassion, mercy, kindness, and grace. This should not lead us to excuse sin, but to be gracious with sinners, which is what we all are. We should encourage them to greater faithfulness with a gracious demeanor. Jesus is faithful, meek, and kind. That is what we are to be. We fall short, we mess up, we sin, we act in ways unbecoming of a Christian. Whose shoes should we stand in? Will it be in the shoes of the Pharisees who were ready to condemn and destroy? Or will it be in the shoes of Christ, who love the world so much that he gave himself so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life?