A couple of weeks ago I was reading John chapter 8, where a woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before Jesus. There is a crowd around them, ready to stone the woman. You probably know the story. Jesus bends down and starts writing in the dirt. He stands and says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He stoops again and resumes his writing. One by one, “beginning with the older ones,” the accusers leave. Jesus stands up to find only the woman standing there. “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” This woman has a truly amazing story of rescue. She has a distinct life before and after meeting Jesus. In some ways, I envy her.
As I read this story again, I was struck with this realization: were I a person in the crowd, I would not have been one of the first to drop my stone and walk home. I would have stood there, looking at that woman in disgust and contempt, clenching that stone and waiting for the opportunity to let all of my righteous indignation fly at her. I might have tried to catch Jesus’s eyes and communicate with my own, “Some people, eh, Jesus?” At some point I would have realized that everyone else was leaving, so I had better go, too.
You see, my name is Keely and I am a Pharisee.
The Keelys in the crowd wanted justice. They wanted to be praised for their faithfulness and holiness. They were a crowd of big brothers, with years and years of constancy and consistency under their belts. The Keelys were filled with hatred against this woman, for they would never do such a thing.
I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs** this summer, focusing on stories of people who have “come to Jesus” after years of drunkenness, drug abuse, infidelity, and wreckless living. I don’t find myself relating to these experiences in the slightest, but I do find myself with the same envy that I feel for the adulterous woman. I mean, think about what the scripture says about this woman. She was caught “in the act of adultery.” (In the act?! Can you imagine?) She has no defense. She can’t deny what she was doing. She was naked and vulnerable and full of shame. She was brought to Jesus and expected to be put to death for her actions. She literally had nothing to bring to him.
Then there’s me. After confessing to Doug recently the things I’ve written here, I drove home sobbing uncontrollably and crying out to God to do something drastic to open my eyes to the depth of my sinfulness. “If it takes a traumatic brain injury that removes my ability to reason and to rationalize every stinking thing I do, then please Lord, do that.” I know that in reality I am the adulterous woman. I am Cain. I am Haman. I am Judas. But I am so, so, so incredibly good at denying that. My righteous acts (filthy rags) are easier for me to remember than are the times I have murdered someone in my heart. My 20+ years of Christian living have resulted in me becoming larger and Jesus becoming smaller; his sacrifice made trivial; his grace no longer amazing.
Brennan Manning writes, “These sinners, these people you despise are nearer to God than you. It is not the hookers and thieves who find it most difficult to repent. It is you who are so secure in your piety and pretense that you have no need of conversion. They may have disobeyed God’s call, their professions have debased them, but they have shown sorrow and repentance. But more than any of that, these are the people who appreciate His goodness: They are parading into the kingdom before you for they have what you lack – a deep gratitude for God’s love and a deep wonder at His mercy.”
I need Jesus to slap the stone out of my hand, because I don’t want to drop it. I need him to open my eyes to the adulterer within me, because I have the blankets wrapped tightly around my nakedness and shame. I need my friends and family to call me out on my selfishness and anger and bitterness and gluttony and my judgmental heart and to remind me that those sins caused Jesus to be deserted by his father. I have to be made to believe that, not only am I capable of doing the very worst things I can imagine, I have already done those things and continue to do them. Sin is sin is sin is sin.
My name is Keely, and I am a lifetime church-goer, an everyday bible reader, a City Pres staff member, a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, a liar, an idolater, a drunk and a junkie. I need Jesus, and I don’t understand in the slightest just how true this is.