Monday, May 16, 2005

Thrown by the Unthrown

I've been thinking. I know, it's a dangerous activity, but I've engaged in it, nonetheless. I've started wondering what those famous words in John 8, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," and "go and sin no more," really meant to the woman caught in adultery. So often these passages are preached as ones of freedom. These words freed the woman from her accusers, freed her from debt, freed her from her sinful life... the only life she may have ever known.

I think these words wrecked her life. It may have been a shamble of a life, but what it was wrecked, nonetheless. I've heard it preached that the adultery was a set-up: how else could all of those godly Pharisees know where to catch such a sinful act? I've also heard that perhaps the woman wanted to get caught. Perhaps she let down her guard. Perhaps she was in such a horrible state that she didn't care who knew anymore.

I've had this feeling. You may scoff but, honestly, if no one sin is graver than another, than I can feel that anxiety, too. And I have. It's a strangling feeling. It's a feeling somewhere beyond lonely. It's isolatory. It's a deadly silence.

Even if she didn't abide by the laws of Moses, she clearly knew them. In such a saturated environment, it would be hard not to. This woman knew where her acts would lead; she knew the consequence. I think she let down her guard because she wanted to be caught. She wanted to be stoned. For her, death was the only way out.

Finally, her day out had come and she was caught. Maybe standing before Jesus wasn't as hard as we all think it might have been. Standing there in her shame. Maybe she was relieved; relieved to finally be released from her suffocating secret. Perhaps she stood there relieved that her hellish life would finally be over. She stood there awaiting the stones.

And then came those words, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," and her accusers turned slowly away. Her hopes of release slipped from their reluctant hands as her heart fell with every stoney thud to the earth. And the tears probably streamed faster and harder now, her face turning red with anger towards the man who stole her only way out.

Then Jesus looked up. He met her eyes and her fever cooled, her hands began to tremble in a way they never had before. He confessed he would not condemn her, he would give her freedom. Freedom to return not to the life she's always known, but to something else-- what she did not know. "Go and sin no more," he said.

And with those words, her hollow lifestyle shattered, revealing a tender, new child. The life she had known was over, just as she wanted, but she was not yet released. Now she had to learn everything anew. But something in those eyes both calmed and riled her soul. Just the fact that she finally felt the presence of a soul was enough to stir the butterflies in her stomach. Now she had a new skin, one delicate and pure, yet stronger than any of the surrounding stones.

Her old life was wrecked. Her whole sense of being was wrecked. The only way she could think of to get out of this world was no longer an option. And yet, Christ had given her a new way out, one she could have possibly never imagined: one difficult to comprehend even after the fact.

As a child of God, myself, one who has heard, "go and sin no more," I still have a difficult time accepting the saving power of grace. I still expect stones and lightening bolts, plagues for my misdeeds. I expect penance. I expect to do my part. Grace takes most of that away. God says, "In repentance and rest is your salvation... but you would have none of it." (Isaiah 30:15) Grace wants me to repent and then rest in it's faithfulness.

This sort of revelation wrecks my world. It takes away my control, leaving my mode of operation in a pile of rubble-- a heaping pile of uncast stones.