The people of Jerusalem did something special for a week in mid autumn every year. To commemorate the forty years when their homeless ancestors roved the desert in tents, they vacated their comfortable homes, and they took to living in palm frond booths they set up in the streets and squares.
Those balmy evenings with people milling about in their night clothes often gave rise to irregularities, and the Pharisees saw where they might use one of the sinful encounters to build a case against Jesus.
Dispatching their soldiers, they ordered them to surprise a couple in the act, and to trundle the woman to them where they would be waiting with Jesus. (There was no question of arresting the man, since adultery was seen not as a sin of impurity, but rather as an injustice against the woman’s rightful husband.)
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses
commanded us to stone such a woman. So. what do you say?”
Now, the people knew such offences to be so common that they would see Jesus as heartless if he condoned stoning the poor offender. But if he openly went against a command of Moses, he would be committing a capitol sin.
What Jesus did, was he bent down, and he began writing in the dust. Preachers have ventured to say that Jesus was writing the known sins of individual Pharisees, or that he was writing just the one word “Love.” But what he might have been doing by bending down was just disassociating himself from the woman’s accusers who were standing in a circle around her.
What he did was, he hit home with each of the Pharisees whose faults everyone knew about. (He might have been hitting home with each of us too.) He said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”