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Hello! I'm Ashley.

I’m a Christian feminist, writer, speaker, TV producer, news pundit, ordained reverend, and abuse-victim advocate who educates churches and secular communities on abuse. I’m the founder of The Courage Conference, for survivors of abuse—and those who love them.

Did Joseph’s Protection of Mary Influence Jesus’ Reaction To The Woman Caught In Adultery?

Did Joseph’s Protection of Mary Influence Jesus’ Reaction To The Woman Caught In Adultery?

“Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they *said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” -John 8 {NASB}

The above story is a radical act of love and protection of the vulnerable.

I cannot help but think that Jesus was perhaps thinking of his own mother as he defended the disgraced woman in the crowd of Pharisees. 

We must remember that Jesus' mother, Mary, was believed to have committed adultery when found pregnant outside of wedlock, and thus was legally vulnerable to stoning as well. 

We do not know the events surrounding this woman's capture and public humiliation, but according to Old Testament law, the woman could be killed even for what we now consider statutory rape (1). But even if the sexual encounter was enthusiastically consensual, it begs the question, "where was her male partner, and why was he not held to the same standard?" In either case, male privilege and patriarchal violence is on display against this woman. 

Maybe it was at this point that Jesus thought of his deceased earthly father. Joseph refused (2) to use his patriarchal right to an honor killing when Mary was found with child not of him. As Carolyn James says, "he is joining [Mary] in shame" by proceeding to marry her after the angel appeared to him. "These were costly decisions for Joseph, for they diminish[ed] his reputation in the community...". Joseph sacrificed his own reputation to do what he felt was right and protect Mary, and in doing so he laid a direct blow upon the patriarchy (3).

We cannot know for sure what was going on in Jesus' mind during this rescue, but I don't think we would be amiss to believe that Jesus' relationship with his countercultural parents in his formative years had an impact on the way he defended the vulnerable and rebuked the privileged. 

In John 8, Jesus turns the tables on the self-righteous men who were seeking to prove a point at the expense of a vulnerable woman. He directed the spotlight back on their own sin and position of patriarchal power and privilege. 

Afterward, there is a tender moment when Jesus speaks to the terrified and humiliated woman, setting her free. While we may think that his words, "go and sin no more" are to be seen as a rebuke, let us remember that Jesus used these same words when he healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, who is not recorded to have committed any great sin (4). Jesus was not rebuking this woman for her sexual sin, he was displaying his power to pardon as the Son of God. These accusing men who brought forth the woman remind me of some modern day Pharisees (sometimes church leaders) who berate, publically shame, and cast the stones of character assassination on the quivering bodies of those victimized by the church's own corrupt systems.

May we, like Jesus and his parents before him, be quick to defend the vulnerable against abusive power and control systems such as patriarchy. May we be the ones to stand up to the self righteous religious leaders clinging to the letter of the law, seeking to make a prideful point through shaming and blaming victims of their own making. 

May we call out these self-righteous leaders, and turn their glaring, legalistic spotlight back on their own abuses and away from the hurting. 

May we give the comforting and rescuing love of Jesus to the abused, shamed, and humiliated. May we be the ones to show them freedom, both freedom from abuse and freedom from the guilt and shame heaped upon them.

-Ashley Easter

Notes and Sources: 

(1) In Deuteronomy 22, the law gives a man the right to have his betrothed or new wife stoned if he finds her not to be a virgin. An exception to the rule is if she is raped in a city and cries out loud enough for someone to hear her or if she is raped in a field where her voice could not yell loud enough for others to hear. 

In modern times, we recognize that unless a woman consents enthusiastically and without coercion or fear, the man who has sex with her is committing rape. We now recognize that a woman may not have the option to scream because she may be coerced, or the trauma may cause her to freeze up. We cannot know for sure, but it is very possible that the woman caught in “adultery” may have actually been a woman found while being raped.

(2) “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” -Matthew 1:19 {NASB}

(3) “The angel’s message in Joseph’s first dream must have come as a double shock to Joseph—first by corroborating Mary’s story, and second by instructing him to marry her. Now, not only is he refusing to defend his honor, he is joining her in shame… he ‘shuts down his carpenter shop, gets behind Mary’s calling and adapts himself to his wife and God’s calling on her life’...Even according to today’s egalitarian standards, this is radical...These are costly decisions for Joseph, for they diminish his reputation in the community, turn his life upside down, and run his private agenda through the shredder… Joseph takes manhood to a whole new Gospel level and foreshadows a new kingdom brand of righteousness.” - Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom

(4) “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”” -John 5:14 {NASB} Jews commonly believed that handicaps, such as being blind or lame, were a direct result of sin, Jesus boldly disputed this later in John 9. 

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