I was just reflecting on a well-known bible story. You probably know it, its the one about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and dragged before a mob and Jesus by the religious leaders. It was their obvious attempt to expose Jesus as a fraud while at the same time ensuring they looked good as the enforcers of morality and godliness. (That happens too often, people doing deadly things to others while taking a moral high-ground to protect themselves.) John 8:3-11
You know the story — they drag this unsuspecting woman out into the street, publically humiliate her, threaten to kill her, and use her as a token to test Jesus. Of course, then Jesus offers a really ingenious thought and the crowd disperses. Most of us have heard this story more than a dozen times. To most of us it has become nothing more than a source of great “teaching moments”, providing good insight into the effects of sin and grace and the dangers of religion.
We’ve begun to miss the humanity. We’ve begun to forget the story is about a person.
Familiarity breeds contempt ~Aesop.
We risk missing the point of all of life when we reduce a person’s story down to facts and principles and information. We miss out on the chance to Love. Isn’t that what the religious leaders did? They reduced Jesus down to a question – “Is he or isn’t he the real deal?” They reduced the woman down to an object, a tool. The reduction allowed them to dismiss everything of true value. They thought they were doing “good”, but it was really just evil cloaked in morality and self-protection (a very dangerous combination.) And yet the beauty of Jesus shines through as what was meant for evil becomes something else completely. Jesus never loses sight of the woman, never reduces or dismisses her story. She is to him — another chance to love.
As I read the story again, I picked up on the usual highlights, drew the typical conclusions — Jesus was thoughtful and wise and comes through. He certainly saved the woman’s life, to be sure. But while so much focus goes toward what He said, there was something nagging at me as I reconsidered the woman’s story. I think we’ve been missing the best part of the story.
Jesus stood by her.
In our culture where we love expediency and justice and action, and where we live so distant from each other in almost every regard, and where we bombard each other from a distance with information and opinions — it’s no wonder we miss this. After all, this isn’t the flamboyant part of the story. Its simple — Jesus stayed. The bible says He “bent down” (what was most likely eye level with the woman) right beside her. Through all she was going through, it wasn’t the clever answer that brought her peace, it was Jesus presence. He stayed by her side. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him at all. They wanted it to be about Him — but He stayed focused on her.
I can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out differently if Jesus would have said his famous line “…cast the first stone…” and then gone on his way, leaving her to deal with her situation on her own. My guess is it would have gone VERY differently. But that’s not how God does things. Instead, He stays around. He walks with us through our difficulties. Just like with this woman, He knows our “crap” and secrets and sins; we are utterly exposed, and utterly loved. Words are powerful and important, but it is proximity that gives them the greatest weight.
So, the next time you’re face-to-face with a hurting person, tempted to dump a few thoughts or bible verses and move on — remember this story. Not for the principles or the chance to “set the record straight” or to correct some moral breakdown. But remember it as a chance to experience what life is all about, a chance to stand by them — a chance to love.
And the next time you’re ready to give your advice or spout your opinion or tell your “similar” story — remember this story. Not for the words Jesus spoke, but for the words He didn’t speak. Remember how, when the temptation was to turn all attention toward himself, he let the woman’s needs remain the focus. Ask a question. Let it be a reminder to listen.
And, the next time you’re tempted to think you’re on your own left to face your struggle or pain or sin or whatever — remember this story. Not for the cunning answer Jesus gave, not for the information. But remember that He stood right beside an exposed, broken, humiliated sinner and loved her until she was ready to stand again on her own. And he will for you, too. That’s the best part of the story — Jesus stands by us.
Discovering the lessons of Love,