Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
It’s odd that a story so familiar has taken so long to speak to me, and resonate within me. The woman caught in adultery is always a comforting analogy of our universal sinfulness, and the boundless mercy of our Lord. “Go, and sin no more” seems a fairly direct command to get up, and try harder. Simple and straight forward.
It speaks to all of us sinners alike, and gets filed along with all the other gospel virtues that are so fixed in the conscious of a Catholic.
Recently, however, I came across a painting of this infamous scene. Jesus is depicted writing in the sand, ignoring the spectators. The woman is bound and heavy with guilt, weakened by humiliation. Jesus’ writing catches her eyes, and she discretely veers her gaze to his hands.
He writes for her alone. He literally lowers Himself so as to look up at her. All this, for a woman consumed with shame – unable to lift her head.
This different image of the adulteress, for whatever reason, proved more provocative to me than previous pieces I’d seen. I became fixated on this story for days, and eventually found myself with a perspective I hadn’t considered.
Maybe that woman’s shame goes beyond demonstrating Christ’s mercy. Maybe her story illustrates the vulnerability of feminine sexuality.
A woman’s sexuality is clouded in ways unique to her sex. We experience more by way of emotion, our indiscretions are made undeniable by the bearing of children, and we suffer abuses at a distressing rate. All of which make our sexuality as women ever more priceless, ever more fragile.
That’s not to say the sexuality of men is any less important, or less under siege. But let’s face it, the woman was “caught”, which implies there was another party involved in the sin. Yet where was the man guilty of the same sin? Not mentioned, not sought, and certainly not in any danger of a public execution. I’m a far cry from biblical scholar, but maybe this was intentional. Maybe there’s a reason our Lord addressed her on her own despite the transgression shared by two.
That woman’s shame was deeper and more profound than her counterpart’s. She was defiled, damaged, and broken. That invaluable treasure was shattered, then exposed for the world to see. Something so precious, once lost, cannot be replaced or mended. It remains a dark blot on the memory – best kept hidden, and far from thought.
Her dignity was lost, and He knew what that meant for a woman.
I think this is why Jesus exemplifies the adulteress. Perhaps Jesus wanted to speak directly to women, and this plight we share. This is a message not only of mercy – but healing.
All too often women’s virtue is cheapened, abused, or damaged well before she’s enlightened to it’s potential or her own profound value. Whether the initial blemish was consensual, or stolen – the shame is real. It is imposing, and lasting. Thus, countless women carry this self-reproach into relationships, marriages, and families.
I understand shouldering that dark kit packed with painful memories, silent remorse and fierce resentments. I had years of abuses and blunders I wanted to erase. Despite numerous confessions and an earnest desire to repent – I felt nothing could repair what had been broken. I’m lucky, I would tell myself, and I’ll just keep trying.
That is, until this rumination of mine, prompted by aforementioned painting. It brought about an encounter so wholly unexpected and illuminating, that I felt compelled to share what I received.
If you are that woman shrunken against the wall and crippled with the weight of shame. You need to know this.
Jesus is waiting.
He wants you to gather your broken pieces off the floor and offer them up to Him in all of your weakness. He wants to lift your chin, meet your eyes, and admire you in sunlight. He wants to replace what’s broken, mend the cracks, and affirm your dignity. He wants to tell you –
You are mine.
All the therapy in the world, even the love of a good man – will never be able to heal what only Jesus can. He will remove that dark kit. He will remove your hurt from memories.
He surpasses forgiveness for all that is unforgivable.
He retrieves all that is lost.