Exposed – An Imaginative Re-telling of John 8:1-11

Obvious but I‚Äôm gonna say it anyway: this is a creative re-telling of a Scriptural story. Please do not take my imaginative musings as Scriptural truth. haha. K thanks. ūüôā¬†

Exposed.

There was no escape now. The servant boy had snooped into things that should not have been his concern, things that should have been kept secret. The boy had notified her husband, who came quickly at the accusation. She would never forget the look of betrayal on her husband’s face – he had choked back an angry sob, turning away from the scene of impropriety.

As if suddenly repulsed by the woman who just moments ago he had so tenderly embraced, the man caught with the adulteress shoved her off of him. He scrambled to put on his robes and retain some semblance of dignity.

In the span of a few moments, the woman’s ecstasy had turned to panic. She managed to put on her own clothes before her husband grabbed her by the arm, digging his fingernails into her soft skin. It was then she realized with a stab to the heart that he could never, would never, love her again.

Her husband threw her to her knees in the midst of the religious leaders. He had taken her to the Temple, undoubtedly for her humiliation and punishment. Seething, he explained the situation, ending with kicking her mercilessly in the side. The woman didn’t cry out, or else it was indistinguishable amid her endless sobbing which had persisted since the scandal had been discovered.

“This is a perfect case for our new ‘prophet’ to judge, I should think,” said one Pharisee maliciously, wrinkling his nose in contempt at the woman before him. A bloodthirsty crowd paraded the adulteress into the presence of Jesus, who was in the middle of a teaching. By now, the woman was preparing herself for the pain of a humiliating death, likely by stoning. Jesus looked at the woman with compassion and turned to the leaders to hear their judgment.

“This woman has been caught in adultery. You know what the Law requires. What would you have us do?” one leader asked, lifting the woman by the hair, for she had been hiding her face in the dirt, identifying with it in her shame. The woman could not bear to meet the gaze of the Teacher, the Prophet that some rumored to be the Messiah. She closed her eyes in utter despair, tears still streaming down her dusty cheeks.

Wordlessly, Jesus came close, bent down and scrawled something in the dirt.

“What is that supposed to mean?” cried the leaders angrily, as the woman opened her eyes and read the message. She could not read, but somehow He had opened her eyes to recognize this one word. What looked like meaningless scribbles in the dirt to others who looked on, was a message meant for the eyes of one woman alone, the word: Emmanuel. God with us. What could this mean? New tears filled her eyes, this time of a wild, inexplicable hope.

As it seemed Jesus was not going to respond, the Pharisees pressed him again. “This is nonsense, you are playing in the dirt like a child. What would you have us do with her?”

Jesus smiled at the woman and then stood with the authority of a great Prophet, or perhaps something more. “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone!”

There was not one face turned towards the shameful scene that was unmarred by the ravages of grace. Again, Jesus stooped down and wrote another message on the dirt to the woman – what looked again like meaningless lines to the stunned crowd. But as clear as the bruises on her body from this fateful day, the words revealed themselves in the woman’s mind: I AM.

Suddenly both afraid and relieved, confused and confirmed, the woman threw her face back into the dust in a gesture of worship before Jesus. Jesus took hold of one of her hands and looked towards the crowd – but they had dispersed like feathers in the wind. Sobs were wrecking the woman’s body and heart. She was at the mercy of the only righteous Judge, the Great I AM.

She knew in her heart that she deserved death. Yet even if she managed to escape condemnation, could anyone possibly love her now? Her husband had not filled the gaping hole of longing in her to intimately know and be known, love and be loved. Every grasp at human affection had been tainted by unmet longings. It was why she had an affair in the first place (and only after a prolonged attempt to restore the spark that once existed between she and her husband.)

Perhaps if she ran off now in secret to another town, where no one knew or expected anything of her, she could be moderately happy. Perhaps given another chance in another lover’s arms, the longing in her heart could be satisfied. Men had not proved themselves capable of real love thus far. Maybe she was looking in the wrong places. Women, after all, had always been her solace, had always allured her with their beauty . . . in the arms of a woman, there could be mutual comfort and understanding, an intimacy so wonderful and —

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

The woman jolted out of her brooding thoughts. She still did not dare lift her eyes. “No one, sir,” she whispered in quiet astonishment.

“Daughter, look at me,” The woman rose to her knees. It was some minutes before she could bear to look at Him, but when at last she dared to do so, her desperation and shame were again met with Love in the eyes of the Teacher. “I don’t condemn you either,” He said, smiling with blessed assurance. “Now go and leave your life of sin.”

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Oh, to Grace How Great a Debtor

Disclaimer/reminder/hello-I’m-insecure:¬†My blog is meant to show purpose in process – that there is purpose in the seemingly eternal uncomfortable middle part of life journeys in which you and I often find ourselves.¬†Though this post may seem to end very definitively, this is very much a “process” post. I have held a shallow concept of grace for the majority of my life, and I’m just now peeling back more layers of what grace is and what that means for me. I’m struggling with grace. I’m perplexed by it. Even angry with it. I’m not even sure what I wrote in this post is true.¬†But there’s purpose here. There’s purpose in the process. “Process” is God’s favorite way to work.

I confess, I’ve always been a bit mystified by a line in one of the Church’s most popular and beloved hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I’m not referring to “here I raise my Ebenezer,” which by default is reminiscent of a certain “humbug-ish” character. No, it is perhaps a line less questioned and more readily accepted:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be

Immediately, questions come to my mind. Doesn’t the very concept of living by grace through faith in Jesus indicate that there is no longer any debt to be paid? How can one be indebted to grace, which by nature is freely given? Is this phrase not enslaving us to the moralistic Christianity I so hate yet I’ve bought into time and time again? Why such strong language? “Debtor” and “constrained” do not conjure up images of grace as the glorious freedom I’ve thought it should be. Would it not be more theologically accurate to sing, “oh, to grace how great a beneficiary daily I’m privileged to be”?

And yet . . . perhaps the old song is right, after all (bah, humbug).

If nothing else, the past year and a half of emotional turmoil has given me, perhaps for the first time, a personal experience of the grace of God. Grace has moved me to tears and has caused me to look in awe at the God who chooses to save and love me at my worst. The ever-present barrier from head to heart knowledge has been transcended more times over the past 500 days than the combined 8,000-something previous.

In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller delves into the topic with sheer accuracy. To the truth that God accepts us by grace through Jesus’ work regardless of our own actions, a member of Keller’s congregation replies in a way with which I deeply resonate:

¬† ¬† ¬† She said, “That¬†is a scary idea! Oh, it’s good scary, but still scary.”

I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works- then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost –then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her — she was not her own. She was bought with a price.

As someone who has (or rather, chooses anew every day to varying degrees of success) to sacrifice the pursuit of something I most want, I have noticed a certain spirit of entitlement encroaching on my every thought and action. “I’ve given you this, God . . . so give me a reasonable, satisfactory substitute in this particular way –¬†now – or else!” Though I haven’t actually said these words to God, my attitude has essentially been communicating to the Creator of the universe that I deserve something more than what He is currently giving me.

This is not living in grace.

At my counseling appointment a couple days ago after talking about this very issue, I was tasked to define what it is like to live in relationship with God with an attitude of entitlement vs. what it is like to live in relationship with God based on grace.

This is what I came up with . . .

Entitlement = I sacrificed, You owe me
Grace = You sacrificed, ________________

Pathetic, right? Born and raised in the church, and I couldn’t even come up with a definition of grace, the bedrock of my salvation.

I stammered through some half-answers —

“Uhhh – You sacrificed, I owe nothing . . . no, no,no. You sacrificed, no one owes anything anymore . . . wait that’s not right . . . dang it . . . ummm,”

So our work in therapy became an assignment. Frustrated at my theological ineptitude, I started to stress. What did this mean? Was I even a Christian if I didn’t know what grace was? On the way back to work, I thought of two snatches of hymn lyrics: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe” and “oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.”

I don’t find this to be a coincidence. The Holy Spirit was and is ever attune with my present need. Historically, He has stirred my conscience towards songs and stories and His Word to remind me of truth. Faithfully, He did so again.

Grace = You sacrificed, I owe You

What? How can this be? This goes against everything I thought I knew about grace. I thought grace meant “it is finished.” How could there be anything to owe a paid debt?

But grace calls for an active response, not a passive one. Grace is realizing the freedom Christ bought for us includes the ability to sacrifice whatever is necessary to our Good Father, trusting He knows what is best for us and will make all things new in the mystery of His will. As one friend put it, here is our one chance to freely choose to bow before our Savior, before “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Grace gives us the opportunity to choose to love God because He loved us first.

The sacrifice of God was necessary and it was brutal and it was costly. He paid a heavy price so that I could eternally rest in His love. I owe Jesus my life. Somehow the gravity of the situation has not fully hit me.

Western culture is no help. Entitlement is the legacy of the United States of America: “I deserve the American Dream, I deserve the new i-Phone, I deserve to have a choice between crunchy and smooth peanut butter, I deserve marriage, I deserve a job, I deserve a good life.”

How do I, how do we, move from a spirit of entitlement to one of grace?

I can think of only one thing : to have a staring contest with Jesus – to dare to not drop my gaze from His untamable, unshakeable love. For if I’m honest with myself, I am not afraid that my affections towards fighting for what I want will not change.

I am afraid that they will change.

Because when that happens, I will no longer have anything with which to bargain with God to try to get what I want. I will have no more illusion of control.

Like the old hymn affirms, I will truly be constrained by grace.

If There Is Any Other Way

cup

‚ÄúAs we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly carefully, but fully.‚ÄĚ Henri J.M. Nouwen

Suffering is one of the only things that is guaranteed in this life. Some say that Christianity is a spiritual crutch that makes life more bearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is not about making life easier. Christianity is about an eternal, unconditionally loving, intimate relationship between a Creator/Savior/Father and the created/saved/child. The price of this relationship is costly, for both sides of the relationship. In fact, the Christian life¬†could by almost all accounts be considered unbearable (outside of God’s grace), especially when we look at the boundaries God has put in place for us with which¬†modern society views as backwards-thinking and intolerant.

Many people feel free to warm themselves by the fires of all their desires. By contrast, Christians are called to acknowledge and see the good, God-given longings in these very real and sometimes desperate desires and then to be willing to lay them down if necessary in order to pursue a greater love, a higher truth, a more fulfilling calling. We are asked to do this daily, not to save us from eternal damnation, but to have the honor of walking the same road as Jesus did, so though we also share in His sufferings, we too can share in His inexpressible joy.

On¬†the surface, especially from an¬†outside perspective, a Christian’s life may look like self-inflicted torture.

On the contrary, a Christian is called to choose to live in God-inflicted grace.

36¬†Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‚ÄúSit here while I go over there and pray.‚ÄĚ 37¬†He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38¬†Then he said to them, ‚ÄúMy soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.‚ÄĚ

39¬†Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‚ÄúMy Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.‚ÄĚ – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus pleaded not just once but three times in this one desperate evening for His Father to take away the suffering He¬†had been asked to endure. Like Jesus, we beg of God to take the cup of suffering from us. If there is any other way to obey You . . . please, Daddy, let me have what I want, what I think I need . . . please, Daddy, don’t make me carry a grief I don’t understand . . . please, Daddy, there must be a different, less painful way . . .¬†

Like Jesus, we¬†weep and try to say,¬†but You know what’s best. You have my ultimate good in mind for me. Help me to trust You. Help me to follow through with what you want me to do.¬†Jesus fully embraced this truth, and the reward was this grace:¬†untold¬†millions destined to enjoy¬†an eternal intimate relationship with¬†God and with those who love Him.¬†

Who knows what grace will come if I, if we, choose to follow the paths God has laid out for us, heartbreaking and confusing though they may be?

The cup of suffering I have been asked to drink has stifled my joy with nauseous disappointment. I have been holding this cup for nine months, tears dropping into what looks and smells like liquid death. This is not what I thought I signed up for . . . but this is what I have been given . . . cycles of grief and anger and death and acceptance and surrender . . . how can this possibly be worth it? Oh, God . . . if there is any other way . . . 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. РHebrews 12:1b-2