I try to remember nudity was the original intent. Shame only came later, when the plan went woefully — but not hopelessly — awry. But like most things spiritual, the point of this whole thing is not anywhere near skin deep.
I needed to remind myself of all this as I read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 this morning. I couldn’t shake the imagery. Nor could I nudge the subtle thought that God has been trying to teach us something that can only be learned from being truly naked at that one moment when every instinct in our body seeks nothing but to hide behind clothes. Only something as powerful as our stripped down selves can grasp it.
But back to John 8: The religious leaders of the day — a very pretentious, uptight, angry group of folks not to unlike religious leader of seemingly every era — crafted a plan to catch a woman in the act of adultery. Obviously she needed a partner in crime, but the man is never mentioned. It’s safe to assume he may have been in on it in the first place because it isn’t so easy to catch people “in the act.” It gives new definition to the term “ugly male.”
The woman is dragged to church without even having time to grab a robe. She is tossed onto the dirt floor in front of Jesus who is teaching there. He ignores her and begins to scrawl in the dirt. The indignant mob asks Jesus if he thinks they should follow Jewish law and stone the woman.
It’s a trap, I tell you! This mob really isn’t so angry at the woman. She is so beneath them in stature they likely don’t think of her in human terms as much as see her as a pawn for their plans, be they plans to use her sexually themselves or in this case to topple this homeless preacher who had turned their lives into a living hell with his radical preaching of love, forgiveness and social justice. The religious leaders of the day were scared shit-less that such ideas would become fashionable and cut into their monopoly on the market of God. One thing we know for sure: God is good business. Always has been. So there has been no shortage of angry people who exploit it.
The nakedness is purely theatrical. To ramp up the stakes on Jesus. To heighten the moral degradation. To heap the shame on this pawn of woman, because we all know that since the beginning of time shame quickly follows nakedness. Remember Eden: They ate the apple and quickly realized they were naked. Shame and the desperate grab to clothe, to hide, to run from God followed. It’s a powerful myth, one I return to time and time again.
Jesus knows its a trap. He is nonplussed. He merely stoops over and scribbles in the dirt, turning all the mob mentality and theatrics into more awkwardness than a Michael Scott speech in an episode of The Office.
Seeking to regain their momentum, the leaders repeat their demands of Jesus in a “what say you!” type of way. Jesus rises, dusts off his hands and shrugs.
“Sure, stone her,” he says. “So long as you haven’t sinned… go for it.”
The original language in this text is more specific. It suggests that Jesus is saying let the one that hasn’t committed this particular sin throw the fastballs of death.
I once heard a preacher wonder about what Jesus was doodling in the dirt during this encounter.
“I like to think it was the names of they girlfriends,” he said.
Now that’s awkward.
The mob started dropping their rocks, one at a time “starting with the oldest,” the scripture records, until there was no one left but the naked woman the man who called himself the Son of God.
“Neither do I condemn you,” he says. “Go and sin no more.”
It’s a great story. It’s grace in simplest form. Jesus shatters the shame of her nakedness and simply says, live better… for your own sake.
We shy away too often from sin. It’s an abused word, a favorite of the angry mob types who twist it into a weapon of religious zeal. But read through the scriptures and you see God using it often in a much different way.
“The wages of sin are death,” the Apostle Paul wrote. We read this and get all freaked out thinking of it only the heaven and hell terms that the religious dogma of our day insists is fact. But look around. We see what he meant all around us. Hell bent on destruction, we call it.
Sin is living our lives far away from the potential and possibility and zeal that God created us to experience. Too often we live a less-than-glorious life because of our sin… our destructiveness, our selfishness, our lack of control, our immaturity, our woundedness and our fear. God wants us to live, not die. Let’s not make it all about some hereafter. If Jesus taught us anything it centers on the fact that this life, right here and now, is damn important, important enough for him to come in the form of a human being to share it with us and show us a better way to, simply put, set us free from sin.
It’s the same words we have all heard so often. We’ve heard them so often in so many hurtful, dogmatic ways we can hardly shift our brains to hear them ourselves without all the religious trappings and consider what exactly God was speaking about and modeled for us in his own life. If anything God is consistent, so these apparent contradictions say far more about us and our interpretations of things like sin and death than it does about God. If Jesus modeled compassion, grace, forgiveness and anything but shame, then we can rest assured it was the point from the very beginning.
This added bonus of shame explains why we so often both repulsed and compelled by our nakedness? Something internally tells us that we are completely Effed up. We know it. We live it. We are sick of it. But we fail to change it. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus tells us with something far removed from shame.
He calls us to embrace our intent. That is our nakedness. Our purest self. That part of us that is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We can’t get it back by adorning ourselves with more “clothes,” more of the trappings of wealth, stature, power, success and influence. We get it back by being stripped bare, face to face with our true selves and all its Effed up glory and realizing that God absolutely loves us just the way we are.
A final note: Most Bible’s now point out that this passage of the woman caught in adultery can’t be found in the earliest manuscripts of scripture. Some would say this might discredit them. But perhaps its the exact opposite. Perhaps the power of the story was so important that it not only wasn’t forgotten, but someone insisted on adding it in later precisely because he or she knew that at one time or another we’d all be caught ashamed in our failures and need to hear again about the God of love who calls us back to our intended state of transparent, honest, flawed and yet still glorious life… naked, yet wonderfully unashamed.