This is the coolest story EVER! I’ve kind of always been obsessed with this story because it completely represents the Jesus I love and not the Jesus of much church culture.
Let me explain:
From as early as I can remember, my parents told me stories about Jesus. My parents painted a picture of Jesus as the loving God who gave everything to have a relationship with me. He was always there by my side wanting the best for me and cheering me on, caring about every problem, and helping me when I made mistakes. I remember as a small child, I used to believe that Jesus was swinging on the swings with me and I would just sing songs to him at the top of my lungs because I loved him so much.
Unfortunately, as I grew older, a lot of other people painted a different picture of Jesus. I was always a quiet child and often very awkward. I was drawn to the kids that didn’t fit in well in school. And I’m probably the most easily bored person on the planet, so not the recipe for fitting in well at church…let’s just say, I drifted away from my church roots…
As I drifted away, my picture of Jesus began to change. I didn’t pray, I didn’t read the Bible and I went through the motions of going to church. I let people around me (who didn’t know the Jesus my parents knew) paint a completely different picture of him. Jesus suddenly became a judgmental God that was disappointed in me. Of course, people used the word “love”, but not like before… he certainly didn’t like me. I had messed up and nothing in the world could change that. God would forgive, but I needed to spend the rest of my life trying to be good “for” him to show I really accepted that forgiveness.
And Lord knows, I tried (at times) to be good, but I am easily bored, distracted, and amused so… “ good don’t come natural to me, but bad sure does”!
I knew the story of Jesus and how he died to offer forgiveness for everyone. I had been trained in church to share “the plan of salvation” with people since I was in fourth grade. But the people who had trained me to share that message, couldn’t accept my mistakes.
When I was young, I didn’t sit down and deeply analyze my theology, I just subtly drifted into thinking that God was judgmental since so many of his representatives seemed to be.
When I was in college*, I became that girl who shares way to freely. I would bluntly, share some sin I was struggling with and then be surprised when half the church couldn’t make eye contact with me. I honestly think that my intent was to find someone who could hear my story and say, “That’s OK God can work with that…” but the best I got was awkward silence and the worst was outright condemnation.
When I look back on my story, it’s completely insane that I struggled so much and let people keep me from seeing God’s love but I was listening to people that were supposed to represent him and I wasn’t listening to HIM and what he says is a whole lot different!!!!!
Which brings me to why I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story.
Imagine the scene with me:
Jesus is sitting and teaching in the center of the temple courtyard. There is a crowd around him. People are pushing to get to him. People in the back of the crowd are straining to hear what he is saying.
People at the edge of the crowd first notice the commotion as the religious leaders enter the courtyard with all of their pageantry and pomp. The push through the crowd around Jesus dragging a distraught woman with them. She is shaking with fear, humiliation and heart-break.
The religious leaders consider her nothing but a pawn whose death they believe will help them regain the power they see slipping from them because of Jesus. They do not care about her story. They do not care about her brokenness.
Her neighbors and friends and total strangers all see her. Her shame is brought center stage and the religious leaders broadcast her sins to everyone there. People shake their heads in disgust. Modest women look away in horror. And everyone watches to see what Jesus will do…
The tension at this moment must have been unbelievable. The religious leaders were calling Jesus out. They thought they had him trapped. They thought that he had only two choices: ignore her crime and so disregard the law, or condemn her to death and go against Rome.
Now, imagine this scene from the woman’s perspective.
Here I am in front of what feels like the whole world. I already felt alone in this world. These religious leaders are right about me. How did I get caught up in all of this? I never wanted to be this person. I wanted a happy family like everyone else. I do deserve to be put to death. I have nothing to live for anyway. My lover turned me in and they let him go free. He promised he would protect me. Now everyone knows what kind of woman I am. What hope is there for me?
They are taking me to Jesus?! If he is really the Messiah as many claim, he will know ALL of my sins and condemn me even more than these religious leaders.
I’m so afraid. Will they stone me to death? Some of these people are my neighbors, will they really pick up rocks and throw them at me? Do they hate me that much? Are they that much better than me? Oh God! I wish you cared about people as messed up as me…
All eyes are on Jesus. The woman waits in fear. The leaders wait in hope. The rest are curious. The tension of this moment is almost unbearable what will he do!! Ahhh! He reacts… by stooping down to write in the dirt!
No matter what cultural context you read this in, it certainly shows that Jesus was not feeling the heat of the moment the same way everyone else was. He was not thrown off guard by the woman’s sins or the religious leaders’ condemnation of her or even the trap they were trying to catch him in.
He wrote in the dirt as they continued to demand an answer from him. After a while, he stands up and says, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
I don’t know what Jesus wrote in the dirt, but it must have been some pretty convicting stuff, because as we saw in the last chapter, the religious leaders had so much contempt for the common people, that they considered them all cursed because of their inability to follow all of the rules. For these guys to admit that they had sin, something pretty major had to happen!
The important part of the story is that the world, including the religious world, saw this woman’s brokenness from sin and they were ready to condemn. Jesus saw this woman’s brokenness and forgave and healed.
This message is the hardest thing in the world for religious people to wrap their brains around. Partly because it makes no logical sense at all. How could God create the universe, rule over it, be perfect, and then want a relationship with us? and be willing to forgive us for all of our messiness?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to spend all of our lives in groveling service to God?
I guess, maybe, if, in your mind you think you have something to offer God, then things like groveling service and judgmentalism seem to make some sense. But for people like me and this lady caught in adultery who “good don’t come natural to but bad sure does”, we know that we don’t have anything to impress God with.
And when he offers people like us forgiveness instead of condemnation, we are stunned, thankful, and overwhelmed. How can God look at someone like me with so much love?
An interesting addition to this story that makes me love it even more, is that it was not originally included with the gospel of John. Close scholarship of the past century revealed that this story was not included in the earliest manuscripts of John. If you have a modern translation, you may see this noted in the text.
The cool thing about this is that the early church wanted this story to be included. When the church was first forming and people were sharing the stories of Jesus, this was a story those that knew Jesus best wanted preserved. It is a story that they felt accurately represented who he is.
And that makes the story even more super, awesome and overwhelmingly, amazingly cool!
I hope that as you read this, you can take time to step back from expectations of others, their judgments, and all the hurts that you’ve felt along the way.
Look away from the condemning crowd and look at Jesus, who sends your accusers away and gives you the freedom to be different.
I hope we can both learn to see the Jesus that I knew as a child!
*OK. If you are in home group with me, you know I’m now that woman who shares too much.
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!