There’s nothing worse than realizing that people are seeing you at your worst. If you’re ever out in public and you lose your patience with your kids, or have an angry outburst on your cell phone at the park, or flip out on a cashier at the grocery store, and then realize that what you’ve just done is in public, it easily feels like everyone within earshot is looking right at you. And if they are, a strong wave of shame typically rolls over you. In that moment, it’s natural to want to run and hide.
We are conditioned to keep our bad and broken parts covered up and hidden, and to present only our strengths and talents. When people see the things we work so hard to hide it can feel like a living death. However, the counter-intuitive way of Jesus is to experience freedom through bringing our broken parts into the light.
Resisting the Light
In John 8 there’s a story about a woman caught in adultery who’s brought by the Pharisees and teachers of the law to stand before Jesus. They bring their charge against her and call attention to the consequence that’s listed in the Old Testament law, death by stoning! But John tells us that their reason for bringing this woman before Jesus isn’t motivated by a concern for moral purity in their community, rather they’re using her as a pawn in their ploy to trap Jesus.
No doubt, this woman wasn’t thrilled about her shame and sin being exposed to their entire community. I’m sure she resisted being brought into the light, but this story isn’t about her resistance, it’s about the Pharisees’. One of John’s literary devices is a contrast between light and dark. He established it right away in the first five verses of his gospel. As his story moves forward, the growing tension between the light and the dark is played out between Jesus and the Pharisees.
The verses that most clearly capture this contrast are 3:19-20.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
We resist the light because we are afraid of being exposed. We work tirelessly to hide our sin and shame because it would crush us if other people knew about it. One of the ways we resist the light is by deflecting it on to others. That’s exactly what the Pharisees are doing here. Maybe you don’t physically drag someone out into the center of your community to shame them publicly, but when we experience regret or guilt, it’s not uncommon for us to shift blame, dodge responsibility, and say, “Yeah, but you did ______.”
Freedom in the Light
But believe it or not, Jesus is constantly inviting us into the light. Stepping into the light is scary. Why? What does light do? It illuminates. It highlights all our flaws and imperfections. It makes them visible and easily seen.
In this story, Jesus isn’t about to let the Pharisees and teachers of the law try to pull one over on Him. In a very subtle way, Jesus does an end-around and shines His light on them while they try and deflect it on to this woman.
After ignoring their question and doodling in the sand, He stands up with a sharp statement. He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v7). Essentially He says, “Go ahead. Throw your rocks. Let ‘em fly. But only if you haven’t sinned yourself.” And then He goes back to doodling in the sand.
At this the Pharisees knew they were trapped. They came trying to pull one over on Jesus, but He turned the tables on them. John says that after Jesus made these remarks, one by one they all left.
Not only does the light illuminate, it also eliminates! Once all the Pharisees had left, Jesus says to this woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replies saying, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus says, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus, having reason and opportunity to condemn her, after all, she was caught breaking the law and brought right to Him, sets her free. The reason Jesus invites us into the light isn’t to shame and condemn us, but to liberate us. In a battle between light and dark, light will win every time. When have you ever shone a light in a dark room and the darkness overpowered the light and snuffed it out? Even when the light is small and weak, it always pushes back the darkness.
Jesus says in the very next verse after this story, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus invites us into the light by inviting us to Himself. By getting close to Him, our shame and sin will be exposed, but we need not fear. He has no intention of shaming or condemning, but rather liberating us from the darkness that holds us captive to sin.
So don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Step into the light of Christ and be set free.