Few things are more terrifying that the idea of being found out.
Each of us has those things which, left alone, become ghosts that haunt us when we are left to ourselves.
What would happen is this thing was found out, or if I was caught doing that?
In the book of John there is a story of Jesus being confronted with someone who has come face-to-face with all those things which she hoped were left untouched by the light. Jesus is teaching in the temple and right in the middle of his sermon he's interrupted by a group of the religious leaders of his day. These were the people that saw Jesus as a threat and believed that He should be stopped by any means possible. In trying to understand how these people acted this way Brennen Manning writes,
"A Terrible things happened to Caiaphas [and the other religious leaders]. religion has left the realm of respect for person. For [the religious leaders] sacredness has become institutions, structures, and abstractions. [They are] dedicated to the people, so the flesh and blood men [and women] are expendable. [They] are dedicated to the nation. But the nation does not bleed like Jesus. [They] are dedicated to the Temple - impersonal brick and mortar. [They] became impersonal, no longer warm human beings but robots, as fixed and rigid as their unchanging world."
And this is clearly seen as the events of John 8:1-11 unfold before us. Jesus is in the middle of a sermon. He is surrounded by people. And in come the Scribes and the Pharisees, and they put a woman down before Jesus. They put her there like someone would put an object down, for to them that is all that she was. An object to be leveraged to their gain.
She was put there because she had been caught in the act of adultery. She was guilty, caught red handed. Or red something. She had become, to those that God had called to protect and shepherd her, nothing more than exhibit A in another case against this man who claimed to be the Son of God. For some reason the fact that it takes two to tango was forgotten, as the man was nowhere to be found. Also forgotten was that to catch someone in the act someone else had to be looking.
Many of you know the story. But put yourself in the narrative for just a moment. Recall the last time that you were truly found out. Or think of that thing that you hope nobody finds out. She was caught. More than that she was caught in the act. She had been ripped from the bed she was in and dragged through the streets all the way to the temple. If she was lucky she had grabbed a sheet to cover herself, but that's only is she was lucky and quick. More than that, think of what must have gone through her head as she was drug to the temple. This was meant to be a place of forgiveness and healing.
When the temple was first built and dedicated King Solomon offered a prayer of dedication that can be found in 1 Kings chapter 8. In verse 46 through 51 he prayed;
"If they [Your people] sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them."
And now, this woman, who had sinned, was being carried off. Not by those who should have been her enemies but her protectors. She was being taken away, not from the place where forgiveness was to be found to to that very place.
Possibly you have felt that same pain. We no longer have a temple to which we are called to gather, but a church. And for many the church has become that place where forgiveness is spoken of only in the abstract. Where instead of love you are given shame. Maybe it's a place where when Jesus shows us, you feel only as if you are thrown down as exhibit A of all that is wrong.
This woman was thrown down at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus does something that nobody expected. As if often the case. The law said that this woman could be stoned, but Jesus told the crowd that only he who was without sin could cast the first stone. Let that sink in, He told the crowed that she deserved wrath, but only He could throw the first stone. For only He is without sin.
One by one those who had rallied together and kidnapped a women only seen as an object (sadly people are often treated the same these days) walked away. And once they left Jesus told the woman to look up. I imagine He did this because she was crouched down, hiding her shame and expecting the first blow to come. She knew what she had done and what she deserved.
Jesus asked her the question, "Where have your accusers gone?" They had all left. And Jesus sent her away with the words, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more."
In that moment Jesus saw past this woman's sin and her shame and saw her. He did not overlook her sin and her shame, but looked past it. He knew that to spare her the blows that her sin deserved that He would have to take them. But in looking past the her sin, He saw her. Made in His own image. Unlike the religious leaders who were caught up in policy, Jesus saw a person. He covered her with grace.
Within this story I see myself. For how many times have I committed the same sin. How many times have I needed to hear Jesus tell me to look up for my head was buried under my sin and shame. So let us all hear anew the voice of Jesus telling us, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more."