Monday, August 12, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 2 - Sinners One and All

I heard a wonderful story: At dawn Jesus went to the temple again where a crowd of people gathered around him so he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery in and stood her before everyone gathered there. They said to Jesus, "Teacher, we have caught this woman in the very act of adultery. In the law, Moses commands us to stone such a woman. What do you say?" (They were using this as a trap in order to have a basis of accusing him) Jesus bent down and began writing on the ground. When they asked him again, he straighten up and said, "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone." Then he bent down and began writing on the ground again. At this, they began to leave one by one, the elders first until only Jesus was left alone with the woman. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where have they all gone. Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir" she replied. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)

The one thing that struck me about this story that has never occurred to me before happened as I placed myself in the woman's sandals as she watched each person drop their stone and walk away. I pictured the scattered mob milling around the temple quietly in the shame of conviction brought to light in their hearts by the Holy Spirit as they eagerly watched out of the corner of their eye to see what Jesus would do. Knowing that he should, by all rights, pick up a stone and throw it at her, they were secretly wondering if there was grace to be found for her...and them.

As I watched this through her eyes, what I realized is that in this moment of complete humiliation and conviction, as the crowd dissipated, she saw the church as it truly is—a gathering of sinners. Often, when I'm in a gathering of my brothers and sisters in faith, I feel insecure and unworthy to interact with them—especially when I am fortunate enough to be in a gathering of those people of the faith whom I have come to admire. I only see my failings and compare them to the righteousness and courageous faith of those I look up to and forget that every one of them falls short of the glory of God just as I have.

As the woman watched the crowd thin, the burden of her humiliation lessened as those who walked away carried some of it away with them. By allowing them to take stock of their own position with God, Jesus was allowing the crowd and the woman to see how very much alike they were. When I joined the fellowship I’m in now, I thought everyone was better than me—more holy, with their lives more together and their faith secure. I thought if anyone really knew me or how scripturally incompetent I was and the doubts I had or that I was divorced once and heading for another one— they would look down on me or worse, suggest that I might be happier in some other fellowship. (Of course, that was just another one of the enemy’s lies.) Over the years, I’ve come to know some of them personally and I can tell you that they are just as messed up as I am.

Back in our story—the adulterous woman’s humiliation was converted to humble gratitude as the only One who had the right to throw a stone, chose instead to give her life and purpose (leave your life of sin behind.) As a sinner and a woman of faith, it is not my place to judge but to come along side and help bear the burden of others, to bring others to Jesus not to be condemned (as the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees did) but to receive the grace I myself have received from the only One who has the right to condemn and the power of forgive. And I guarantee 100% that when anyone, no matter who they are and what they have done, approaches Jesus in repentance—he will always, always, always choose to forgive.

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