I once saw a photograph of an African woman who had been caught in adultery. She ran naked through the streets screaming as a blood thirsty crowd surrounded her. They shouted, spat, and threw things at her.
There is so much story in this one photograph…humiliation, vulnerability, sorrow and…injustice, yet it still leaves me with questions:
What happened to her? Did she survive this? If so, what was her life like? What led her to this stark moment of destruction that cleaved her life story in two? Did she sell her body out of desperation to this man or did she love him?
And what about him? Where is he? Because, there was a he. One cannot commit adultery alone, so why was she left endure the condemnation and punishment alone?
I kept this photo nearby when I wrote Adulteress, the chapter in my book Arms Open Wide that is devoted to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. I knew that if I wanted to see Jesus in the full light of His compassion and grace in the temple courts, I had to first be willing to look honestly at the woman who stood crumbling at His feet.
Most likely, the Pharisees made her journey to the temple courts a quite spectacle. Perhaps she too, gathered a screaming, spitting, condemning crowd in her wake. Somehow, like the woman in the picture on my desk, this woman too faced her prosecution alone.The man found with her isn’t mentioned in the narrative.
Surely, she knew the punishment for her sin was stoning. She must have been terrified, humiliated…heart broken.
We see no compassion from the religious leaders of her day. They make her stand in the middle of everyone and proclaim her transgression for all to hear. She must have felt the crushing weight of the crowd’s condemning stares.
But one Man wasn’t looking.
I have heard a lot of discussion about just what Jesus was writing in the dirt with His finger that day. I don’t think the “what” is the point. I think the point is that He deliberately chose to keep His eyes on the ground. I believe it was an act of compassion, a gift of dignity offered to this woman before Him. As a matter of fact, we don’t see Him raise His eyes to look at her until He has successfully delivers her from her accusers. Finally, when they are gone, He rises to address her and His words are full of grace and restoration.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one (not even one?) condemned you?”
“No one sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)
I have to wonder if those outside the church today feel confident that Christians are a safe place for them when they have blown it? Do they know they can come to us to find dignity, compassion, and grace?
Or do they fear we would be the first to throw stones?
The hard truth is this: The Jesus of the Bible was a friend of sinners. It is Satan who is called the accuser. As a matter of fact, when I looked up the word in the original language that Jesus used when He asked the woman where her “accusers” were (Remember, these were the religious leaders of the day.) This is what it said:
kategoros- against one in the assembly, that is, a complainant at law; specifically Satan.
It feels so good to join with the mob, pointing out and condemning the sin that isn’t ours, but if we want to call ourselves Christ-followers…we have to be their friend instead.
“Light of the World,
Grant me the grace to withstand the wooing of the deceiver. Remind me daily that he preys on me when I am the most vulnerable, luring me into sin only to condemn me when I fall. By Your power may I quickly turn to You when my heart is broken, and may I find in You my deepest longings fulfilled. For in You I find blessing without sorrow; in You I find fullness of joy. Ever shine Your light into the darkness of my grief, my sin, my cavernous need….
Keep me near.