Text: John 8:2-12
Title: “God’s Gift of Grace”
She tried to leave before sunrise as conspicuously as possible. She even wore those big sunglasses that the famous celebrities wear when they try to avoid the media. But it was as if they were trying to trap her, as if they had known. She felt like Lindsey Lohan, and she imagined that the Pharisees and scribes were the Paparazzi. They seemed to be everywhere, and they caught her leaving the home of her lover no sooner than she had locked the front door.
Perhaps she wanted to get caught. There’s a saying that those who sin do so boldly because the guilt is so hard to bear, and it is sin that garners attention. Some say sin is merely a cry for help.
By now, the sun was inching over the horizon and they began to pull her towards town. She knew that this was going to be a scandal, although the Pharisees couldn’t stone her like Moses’ law commanded. The Romans outlawed that long ago.
No stoning for her today, only humiliation and excommunication. If she was lucky perhaps she could head north to Samaria, find a good job and make ends meet.
As they went along, she heard them talking about some Jesus fellow. He must have been quite a character for all of the conversation they made about him. Last week was the Festival of Booths, and Jesus and his followers had apparently come to Jerusalem. He accused the Pharisees and the scribes of not knowing the law.
“What learned man was this,” she heard one Pharisee ask another, “One who comes from Galilee and claims to be a prophet?”
She realized something at that moment. The Paparazzi had little interest in her affair. It was Jesus they wanted, it was Jesus all along. She had become an object for their ruse, a mere pawn in their game. She was the bait.
The sun rose higher in the sky now. People started to recognize her in the midst of the entourage, sunglasses not withstanding. She cursed herself more: She should have left in the middle of the night. What person in her right mind would leave when even a hint of light is there to shine upon the sinfulness of one’s deeds. We all run from the light, but eventually the light catches up with us.
And it wasn’t enough for them to bring her to the town! Straight to the temple they went, throwing her up the stairs and through the portico like a rag doll! What humiliation! Surely, she would get stoned, never mind Roman law!
They pushed her in front of Jesus, interrupting him while he was teaching a small group of disciples.
“Teacher,” they said, “This woman was caught in adultery [she cringed…], caught in the very act itself [tears started to well up in her eyes]. Now in the law of Moses, it says to stone such a woman—(see, Jesus, we know our law after all!)—so what do you propose we do with her?”
A tear ran down her eyes as she tried to look to this stranger from Galilee. Would Jesus rouse the crowds and have her stoned like they suggested? It would happen only at great risk to himself—the Romans would find out one way or another.
Or would he appear to be too submissive, or worse, break Moses’ law—a divine law she was all too familiar with? They would have grounds to arrest him either way!
She closed her eyes and held her breath and waited for the poisonous conviction to come upon her like the executioner’s sword.
A minute passed; nothing happened. The Pharisees and scribes were losing their patience. They questioned Jesus again, but he seemed to be ignoring them. He was doodling in the dirt at her feet.
She couldn’t tell what he had been doodling beyond the blur of her tears. They may have been words—envy, lust, greed—she couldn’t tell. Perhaps it was the proverbial line in the sand. She imagined that it was, and she imagined that the line he drew put both of them—she and Jesus—on one side and the Pharisees on the other. But as quickly as she rubbed her tears away, Jesus wiped out the doodling in the dirt with his sandal.
Then she heard his voice for the first time. It was humble, but authoritative; Galilean in dialect, but confident in tone. She didn’t realize that her hands were at her own mouth as she watched him begin to form words, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Curious words, and certainly not what the Pharisees and scribes expected. It wasn’t what she expected, and it certainly wasn’t an adequate answer to all of the questions they had asked. It wasn’t an answer at all.
She looked to the Pharisees and scribes now. It was their turn to be on the receiving end of her tears and quiet whimper. But they began to leave. First this one, the one who grabbed her at the house; and then that one, the one who kept cursing Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. The others left one by one too, each one with shoulders slumped and eyes as downcast as hers.
“Woman,” Jesus said, startling her from her stupor, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin again.”
It was light out by now, and a breath of life filled her with hope. Here was a teacher who had every right to accuse her and give a conviction, to send her to her death or at least excommunicate her from among her neighbors, but he simply gave her a pass and a challenge. Nothing more, nothing less.
The sun was out, but it was as if she was seeing that light for the first time in her life. It was a gift, and it was liberation, and it was an act of forgiveness and it was permission to break off her affair without repercussions.
Go, and sin no more. It was as if the sunrise was a metaphor for something else: the light had just turned on and cleansed her for no good reason other than the fact that Jesus said it was so—no condemnation, no conviction. Grace and freedom all in one swoop.
Then he continued to talk, “I am the light of the world,” he said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
It was like that story about Moses that she learned as a child—the one in which Moses went up on a mountain and asked to see God. God said that no one could look at Him and live, so God decided to place Moses in the cleft of a rock, hide Moses’ eyes as He passed, and let Moses look at the glory of the Lord from behind.
The glory had been so breathtaking, so vibrant, that when Moses came down from that mountain, the people couldn’t go near him. His face was shining like the sun.
Were the Israelites afraid of him because he was so blinding and bright, or were they afraid like she had been because that divine light would reveal the sins and failures, the guilt and struggles they all shared?
She remembered the promise God told Moses during that divine interaction: “I am a God full of mercy and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and forgiveness.”
Just as Moses hid from God’s light, the Israelites ran from that glory of God. She too—the adulterer that she was—ran from the light; but, now, here she was with Jesus—all exposed and vulnerable, fully in the light.
This light, the “Light of the world!”, redeemed her and liberated her with new life, a second chance, a clean start. The sun rose in her heart, and she felt alive like never before.
She recalled a song she heard on the radio earlier that week,
“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning;
It’s time to sing your song again.”
It was grace—God’s grace. ..the single word that best describes God’s relationship to humans, that best describes how much God wants to restore people and be in communion with them, not because of what they do or even because of who they are, but simply because that’s God’s way of expressing God’s love for us.
She had one final thought: What was more scandalous than her act of adultery? Was it her affair, or was it the act of God’s forgiveness of her adultery with no questions asked and no debts to pay?
It wasn’t a stoning she received; it was salvation.
A late professor of mine, Dr. Daniel Goodman, once asked in a sermon similar to this one: How do you run a church on grace? When we practice grace, as scandalous as it is, are we called to be permissive, or are we called to bring people’s sins out into the light so that we can tell them to “Go, and sin no more”?
I think it’s neither. I think that when a church practices grace, we don’t do God’s job of revealing and judging sin; nor do we downplay the repercussions and consequences that all our decisions have on our life.
Instead, I think that the church is called to practice grace by forgiving people of their sins, opening their eyes to Christ’s love, and walking with them through the consequences of actions and decisions that are often too complex for us to understand in the first place.
That is why Jesus said that we are to visit people in prison—we don’t visit prisoners to free them–that’s God’s job and God does that in His timing—rather, we are called to be present with prisoners—all prisoners, not just the ones behind bars, but those who are imprisoned in sin and circumstance—in order to share the grace of God even if we think that others are undeserving of it.
We share grace because we are all beneficiaries of it, and we all are in need of that sunrise in our hearts time and again, the kind of sunrise that reminds us just how amazing God’s grace really is.