“She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV)
The end of the encounter between Jesus, some scribes and Pharisees, and a woman caught in adultery. It is perhaps the most beautiful encounter between Christ and an individual in all of the gospels.
The woman is guilty, there is no question about that. She doesn’t claim that she is innocent, Jesus does not ask her if she is falsely accused. She knew. He knew.
As Augustine points out: “Two persons were left, the unhappy woman and Compassion Incarnate.”
What does Jesus do? He speaks. When Jesus speaks, mercy speaks. When mercy speaks it is a beautiful thing. “Neither do I condemn you, go, and from now on, sin no more.” She is free. She is free because mercy has freed her. Her sin has not been pushed aside or minimized. Indeed, it has been dealt with. She can go. Jesus will not condemn her, he came to save the world, not condemn it:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17, ESV)
Bruce Milne captures the moment far more eloquently than I can:
“It is surely a remarkable fact that he who is the embodiment of divine holiness, the ‘I am’ who met the people of God at Sinai in fire and thunder (Ex. 19:16ff.), should say to a self-confessed sinner with the guilt of the broken commandment heavy on her conscience, neither do I condemn you. Here is the miracle of the grace of God. There is no greater wonder than this. The turning of water into wine, the healing of a dying lad by a word, the feeding of five thousand and more with a snack lunch, the walking on a storm-tossed sea; none of these, nor all of them together, compares with this, that Jesus said neither do I condemn you. In this sentence, and in the heart of mercy which lay behind it, is all our hope and all our salvation for ever.”