The woman caught in adultery wasn’t the only one receiving grace

The sermon topic at our church this past Sunday was the story of the woman caught in adultery. I noticed for the first time that there is grace in unexpected places in this story. Radical freedom. The grace here is not just for the woman condemned to be stoned. But first, let’s find the traps, the prisons that grace explodes, because they are in unexpected places, too…

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.”

Well, there’s one trap. They caught her committing adultery. People talk a lot about how they might have done this and the fact that, while she couldn’t have committed it alone, she was being punished alone. Definitely a trap, but not the sneakiest one.

“And placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”

Clearly, they are laying a trap here for Jesus. They said it thinking they would test him, trapping him into their net of judgment.

But look closer.

“Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.”

Can you hear it? The catch in their voice? The whimper of pain from deep in their beings, the desire to be freed from their obligation from Moses? They are watching Jesus, the friend of sinners, freeing people right and left from the bonds of their sin, healing them from its consequences. A few verses earlier, he had just spoken about rivers of living water, about quenching deep, soul-sucking thirst. Living water resonated deeply for everyone who heard, and suddenly everyone in the area began to discuss whether he was the long-awaited savior. They felt hope for their thirst. The pharisees—the men who wanted to stone this women caught in adultery—countered with scripture they knew as well as their own names, “This can’t be—he came from the wrong place. Scripture says he was supposed to come from Bethlehem.” It’s too good to be true. They counter with the the only truth they know.

If I have learned anything in my short life, it is that everyone thirsts, deeply, painfully. Longing is our state of being if we can cut away the distractions. The hearts that leapt at hearing Jesus talk about living water. But… is it too good to be true? You’ve seen this sort of denial, in stories if nothing else. The prisoners blinking in the sunshine after years in the dark. Am I really being freed? Am I really being seen? If a prison is all you know, you may run back to it when confronted with freedom.

“Moses commanded us to stone such women.” 

If you are God, you commanded us through Moses to judge one another. How, HOW exactly, “prophet”, “SAVIOR”, can we accept that the grace you’ve offered is from the same God who told us to judge? We are doing the job you gave us to do. How do you have the freedom to give grace when you have bound us to our role as judges?

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”

Think for a moment about the other times God wrote something with his finger in the Bible. There aren’t many. Exodus and Deuteronomy specifically say that God wrote the ten commandments on stone with his finger. Think about these two situations—when Moses received the ten commandments, God was distant, on a hill in a thundering cloud. The Israelites daren’t draw near, the closest thing they got was stone tablets with laws inscribed by the finger of God. They didn’t get the person, the got the writing. Here, Jesus is writing, but no one can see what he wrote, or at least they don’t remember. Every eye is trained on HIM… the PERSON of Christ. The Word made flesh. When God wrote with his finger the first time, all people could see was the Law. This time, all they could see was the Person, the Person who would die to be with them. 

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

ZING! Hoo boy, are we ever happy when the pharisees get their comeuppance here. That cut-to-the-core, take-a-look-at-yourselves-homeboys approach makes so many people want to stand up and cheer. But it occurred to me that they might have actually been relieved not to have to follow through. Sure, it is pharisees who will later successfully kill Jesus over things like this, maybe even some of the same ones who walked away in this story. But consider for a moment, is it possible they were relieved, even just this once? That the oldest went away first, not because they were convicted most by Jesus’ words, but because they were the most tired and ready to be done? Tired of carrying the weight of the law when they only have two hands? Happy to acknowledge their own shortcomings in exchange for a chance not to have to follow through on the awful punishments commanded in the Law, even if it was just once? Imagine a high school principal on vacation, seeing teenagers commit a crime and walking away without saying a word because, for once, he can.

“Judge not lest you be judged” is not a command, it is a statement of fact. To the same degree I cannot offer grace, I cannot accept it. If I commit a wrong, I bear the weight of that one wrong and I can accept forgiveness for just that. But when I start judging, I bring the weight of the sins I’ve judged to the table with me every time I seek grace. Jesus didn’t just free the woman in a trap, he offered an out to the pharisees. The presence of the person, of love incarnate, the Word himself, obliterated the trap of judgment and law enforcement. He gave grace to the woman, but he gave the Pharisees the ability to accept grace by abdicating their role as judges. Radical, explosive grace that swept past and through the woman to her accusers.

Did I mention I’m writing a book?

As I was dozing off last night, I woke myself up with a startling thought: I am writing a book but I have been ashamed to talk about it. So, here it is in public for anyone to see: I’m writing a book, and I intend to get it published. I’m writing a memoir, in fact. I sometimes call it “Eat, Pray, Eat Eat Eat, Pray… Eat.” Like its eponym (but with a little more praying and food) it is a memoir of things that happened through my divorce. Except…I do not find myself, I do not find a man, I find HIM. It juxtaposes downward trajectory of my marriage and the collapse of my religious convictions against the increasing awareness of God’s personal pursuit of me. The best kind of romance—one born in vulnerability and grief. It is honest, it is raw, it is Him being strong when I’m at my weakest. Plus it’s sensual in all of the right ways (and the wrong ones, too).

You’ll understand my shock at my shame over it when I tell you that my more serious working title is Never Covered with Shame (from Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”) It’s about escaping from a cocoon of shame over my divorce and my own inadequacies, big and small, yet here I am recognizing shame over writing it. I’ve told some people about it. Honestly, until a few days ago I thought I was talking it up pretty well. I have a solid dozen people eager to read a draft, and many more interested in the final product. What more do I need at this point, really? Then the other day I went to my first writer’s guild meeting, and there were people with business cards identifying themselves as writers. There were people who had gone to conferences and gotten publishing contracts. And to a person they said the most important thing is to be excited about your work and share that excitement with others. “Well, sure,” I thought. “I’m excited and I talk about it sometimes, but I don’t want to be the annoying person who can’t shut up about it.” (If you know me, you know how little danger there is of me rattling on too much about ANYTHING.) “Really, I probably just need to get some business cards printed and I’ll be set.”

I previewed some business card designs. I planned a coffee date with a woman getting ready to publish her own moderately scandalous memoir. I was happy with those small first steps. Then tonight as I was going to bed, I realized that I’d just spent half an hour talking with my AirBNB guests about their art projects, but I did not once mention my writing or my book. My guest has a business card for his sculpture hobby that has now joined my growing collection of artist and writer business cards. The least I could have done was mention that the reason I’ll be getting up at an ungodly hour tomorrow morning is to write. And then I recollected all of times I’d chatted briefly about it and changed the topic. Or simply not mentioned it at all to people who might actually be interested.

Why am I ashamed? The things that ran through my head while I was writing the first paragraph of this post are illuminating:

Memoirs are the hardest kind of book to get published, particularly as debuts. You’re crazy to attempt this.

You have a real job that you get paid for. Writing is a dream—talking about it makes you look silly for taking it seriously.

Remember all the work you put into promoting your recipe website venture? You even had cool business cards. You couldn’t get that off the ground, and you’ll fail at this, too. All the time you spend will be wasted.

There are some rather shocking personal details in this book. Better leave off talking about it with people until you actually find a publisher (if you ever do).

Remember those years of playing violin after college, where you just got worse every year because you didn’t have as much time to practice? Yeah, this will be like that. You’re crazy to think you can accomplish something like this in between your job and all of your other activities.

Girl, you’re THIRTY EIGHT! People your age have been writing for years. AND they have training. You’ll be 80 before you catch up with the skill level of other people in their late 30s.

There are like 5 people who read your blog. What makes you think you should spend all this time writing and publishing a book? You’ll probably end up doing “vanity” publishing and have 2,000 copies sitting in your garage until you die.

I hereby declare that those are lies. I am writing a book. I’m super excited about it and I spend a good chunk of my spare time working on it. I am 4 chapters into my second draft. I’m hoping to have a good manuscript by mid-2018. Next time I see you, expect me to hand you my card identifying me as a writer and talk about it.