There’s a meeting at the church and a new speaker is in town. Large numbers attend this informal service and the crowd is made up of the members of this particular church, visitors from other churches, and people who have never set foot in any church before. The speaker’s name had been publicized widely and curiosity is at its peak. It is surprisingly quiet as he speaks, everyone listening intently. Some are listening with ears full of hope. They’ve heard he has a message that has been changing people’s lives. Some are listening with skepticism because this message is different from what they’ve heard through the years. Others are listening and their anger boils. They believe him to be a charlatan, come to deceive good people.
The church leaders are very concerned. The crowd that has gathered is a conglomeration of every sort of character you can imagine. There are the well-respected members of the community standing by the ones from the “other side of the tracks”, the professionals by the beggars, the saints by the sinners. If his message is to be believed it will open the door for everyone to become members of this church and that just can’t happen! Many of these people have no place in God’s house unless they make some radical changes! Some will never be acceptable. What would they do with all these outsiders?
The leaders have heard of his message as he’s been talking to people all over the country. They’ve stood on the outskirts of other crowds trying not to be noticed as they’ve taken note of the blatant errors he proclaims to be truth. They’ve met together on numerous occasions and discussed how to handle this, as they know it is only a matter of time before he finds a stage with their members. And as expected, here he is, right outside their church.
They have a plan. He handles himself very well, so it is important that the topic they bring to his attention is a solid one. The questions they put before him should draw him out before the crowd as the imposter he is. The education of the crowd is surely more important than one individual’s life, right?
They’ve chosen a woman to be their tool. They care nothing about her, only to use her as a means to their end. They’ve been looking for the bait for their trap and she fits perfectly. She’s a nobody who has broken the law and this deceiver has openly declared that their laws are useless. What will he say to this? It’s one thing to generally speak that we don’t have to follow the law, but when faced with the specifics of a blatantly guilty person standing in front of him, the law demanding a grave punishment, what else can he do but contradict himself? They will stir up the crowd against him. He will be a laughingstock and finally discredited. Things can go back to normal.
Forced to stand in front of the teacher, her humiliation is palpable. She knew the law. She knew what she had done was wrong when she made the choice to do it. If they would only listen! If they understood her circumstances, surely they wouldn’t do this! She quickly scans the crowd of faces looking for even one glance of mercy, one look of kindness. All she sees are strangers staring at her and she hangs her head in shame.
This teacher has a very odd response to the situation. He doesn’t speak to these accusers or to the woman shivering and crying before him. He starts playing in the dirt! The leaders look at each other in disbelief that he is ignoring them. Incensed by his disregard, they won’t let it go. They persist with the question ” The law says kill her. What do you say?” Finally he stands and simply says “If any of you have never broken the law in any way, you can be the first to impose the consequence.” Then he goes back to playing in the dirt.
Their consciences stricken, they know he got them. Rather than catch him, their plan backfired and one by one they walked away. The angry walked away, but not the entire crowd. And not the woman. She had expected to die and all of a sudden it’s quiet. No one’s talking. She dares to open her eyes and look at the teacher as he plays in the dirt. She doesn’t understand. He didn’t defend her or condemn her, yet her enemies are gone.
The mercy and kindness she had hoped to find in a face was before her. He stands and simply asks “Where did they all go? No one punished you?” Still in a confused state of disbelief she answers “No!!” So he takes her aside and begins to explain to her why her sin was wrong, why she shouldn’t have broken the law, the 12 step program to begin so that she doesn’t break this law again, where she needs to be going to church, who she needs to be hanging around with, and hands her numerous resources she needs to begin to read immediately so her life can begin to change…
No. He lovingly tells her that he doesn’t condemn her either and to go on with her life and don’t do it again. She is stunned. Can it really be that simple? Can meeting this teacher and listening to his words really be all she needs to have the life she was supposed to have? Can the truth that he speaks really set her free from the mess she’s in?
After speaking to her he turns again to the crowd and says
“I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the Light which is Life.” John 8:12
The bible doesn’t say anything more specific about this woman. In my imagination, I see her staying with the remaining crowd to listen to what else He had to say! Her life altered, she wasn’t the same woman who had just been dragged there against her will only moments before. He was like no one else she had ever met. She was changed by love that didn’t ignore that there had been sin nor condemn her for that sin. This love gave her a way of escape.
As I read of this encounter today, I ask “Where are we in the crowd?” Are we the ones standing silently judging those who are in sin? Are we the ones who are vocally condemning another? Are we the ones who are trying to give them looks of kindness and mercy when we don’t know what else to do?
Or are we the woman, afraid of the condemning voice of our accuser, expecting to be punished for our sin?
I must confess, I have been all of these at one time or another. Oh, maybe I didn’t drag someone to the altar proclaiming their sin before the entire church. But I’ve gossiped about them. I’ve excluded them. I’ve spoken when I should have been silent and I’ve been silent when I should have spoken. I’ve hung my head in shame, expecting punishment.
And what did I receive for MY sin? Love that says “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
My heart’s desire is to be like Jesus in the crowd. To be the one that is willing to love the messed up life without thinking I have to “set them straight” on everything and burden them down with more “law”. If I will be a true follower of Jesus, and they simply hang out with me while I follow Jesus they will be following Him too. We’ll talk with Him and learn from Him together and we won’t be walking in the dark. Our lives will be changed and we will find true Life. Maybe this will happen one day at church.
2 thoughts on “One day at church”
I don’t know that I have a favorite experience of Jesus but if I did this one would be at or near the top of the list. What a powerful way you have made this experience come alive for your readers – especially me. I pray often that as Christians that we can learn the lesson of that experience – offering love without condemnation, offering hope without blame, offering a future where there is/has been a past/present of despair. I pray that in my heart and life that I can daily claim God’s love so that I have no need to judge, label, criticize or ostracize those who live life differently than me whether they are/are not Christians.
Thanks. I think we all miss the point of this account if don’t first see that we really are that woman.