In the Dust

[John 8:1-11]

I wonder how she felt, standing there alone and exposed before the people who would condemn her and before the only One who had every right to do so. I wonder if she was hardened to the stares or if her own eyes welled with tears. I wonder if she felt like a stranger in her own life. I wonder if guilt settled heavy in the pit of her stomach or if anger boiled over, silencing conviction.

I wonder if she turned to look at Christ or if she diverted her eyes from His.

I kind of think it was the latter. I imagine that she might have been staring at the dirt under His feet. Because that is where His eyes went, too. And He knelt there, in that place where she had fixed her gaze, and He wrote with His finger on the ground. Sometimes the dirt is the only thing familiar. Wind whipped it into her eyes. It stuck to her exposed flesh. Was this dirt the only covering she could hope for?

Sometimes we would prefer a filthy covering to the vulnerability of exposure.

Was Jesus’ writing enough of a diversion that she felt herself gasp for the breath she had been holding? Her accusers gripped the stones they held. They had spoken. Did their voices ring in her ears or were they muffled by the pounding of her own heart? Then Jesus stood, and He spoke: “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

And then He knelt again in the dirt.

One by one the stones fell. Until they were the only thing left of the accusers who had stood before her. Until it was just the two of them – just Jesus and this woman. Until there was no one left to face but the Lord Himself. She stood before Him, and He, wiping the sand from his fingertips, straightened to look at her: “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Lord.”

No one. No one stands to threaten when the Lord moves to protect. No one stays to slaughter when He speaks to preserve. No one is left to condemn when Jesus Christ Himself reminds us that He has knelt in the dirt of our earth, that He has written in the filth of our stains, that He has touched the ground where our accusers stood.

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

That moment is when I would have broken. That moment when Jesus declares that all my flinging and flailing and faltering is not my future. That moment when, standing ashamed before Him, He lifts my chin so that my gaze meets His, and He whispers that He does not mean for me to stand covered in the filth of this earth. That moment when He shows me His dust-covered fingers and His nail-pierced wrists, and He says with a voice of the gentlest strength: “It is finished.”

That moment. That is when my stubborn stoicism softens. Yes, it is finished. But, oh Lord, I am not.

It is graduation season, and this familiar Bible verse has been floating around: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). I remember the hope that verse held ten years ago at my own high school graduation. I was moving toward some beautiful goal – this thing of completion. I didn’t know what it looked like, and I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I was confident of my future arrival. This esoteric destination was the cry of my heart. Complete. I wanted to know I would one day be complete. Ten years later, I just want to know that He’s still working. I just want to know that this is not the time He’ll leave me standing alone in the dust. I just want to know that He hasn’t given up.

And He answers, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

Yes, I hear the correction in His voice. Yes, I hear the discipline. Yes, I hear the firmness. And I weep at the sound of it. Because it means He still finds me worthy of the molding. He still looks at me and sees someone worth shaping. I have not successfully flung myself from His arms. He still sees. He still cares. He still works. He still moves to make me more like Him.

He still kneels in the dust that swirls around me. He still speaks to remind me that this dust is not my home.