“Two Shell Oil Workers Fired After Their Sex Video Leaked Revealing Adulterous Affair.”

That is what the news headline said in the paper. I remember hearing about it one morning at work. A husband was cheating on his wife and 8 month-old child with his co-worker. They had a one-night stand in a hotel and the man filmed it on his cell phone. His wife later found the videos and posted them on the internet. She sent them to all her husband’s contacts, friends, and co-workers. The clips went viral and the scandal was all over the news, and the talk of the town. Imagine the couple’s shame. How would they handle it.

When I heard about it I naturally drew a comparison with this gospel story.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.

They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

(John 8.1-11)

In comparing them my mind did not gravitate toward the sinful act that took place, the forgiveness of Jesus, or the personal reflection of those holding the stones, but to the shame this woman experienced. Like the couple from the article. They may truly repent and receive forgiveness, but their act is forever written all over the internet and in the minds of those they wronged as a constant reminder.

What is shame?

One definition of shame is, “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.” And it is something everybody faces at one time of life or another. It comes in different shapes and magnitudes, lasting a few moments, days, months, or even years. I suppose that there are some acts that cause so great a shame that people never get over it. This is what I would like to speak about in this blog. I would like to highlight a few points from John 8.1-11 which may help those dealing with shame.

What others mean for bad God will turn to good

The accusers threw the adulteress at Jesus’ feet expecting him to judge her as they had already judged her. Terror gripped her because she knew, as Jesus and the rest of them did, that the penalty for adultery was death. Her outlook on life was very grim at that point. Her actions had ostracised her from her community and she faced death knowing that there was no chance she would ever recompense her actions.

Sometimes we end up in situations where the outlook is bleak. This can either happen through our actions, the actions of others, or just plain fate. But I doubt many of us have faced an outlook as bleak as this woman. This should give us hope because it shows that even in the grimmest circumstances Jesus is able to deliver. And often, as in the case of the woman, Jesus’ deliverance comes at a time when we least expect it and feel we do not deserve it.

Be part of a healthy community of believers

“Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Jesus said.

But what if one self-righteous accuser did not pay heed to the words of Jesus. Instead, the accuser keeps his stone in his hand and stays to condemn her. Would Jesus still forgive her or would the accusation and the sin stand? This question highlights an important point about sin and forgiveness within the context of community. The accusers had to overlook the adulteress’ sin because Jesus’ words forced them to face their own sin. This reveals the importance of belonging to a healthy community where people are honest enough with their own faults that they do not remind others of theirs.

I urge you. If you are not part of such a community then you have to join one. Unfortunately, the church is not a perfect place. It, like everywhere else on the planet, is full of imperfect people. But as a church member, you belong to a believing community through whom the words of eternal life are explained and practised. This is the best place for you, because you will be in community with people seeking to emulate Jesus and, with differing measures of success, treat you as Jesus would. This will ultimately help your healing and growth so that in future you will be able to help others.

She knew the consequences but still did it

As a Jew, she knew that God said adultery was wrong and stoning was the punishment. Yet she went ahead with it. I often wonder, at what point did she weigh up the pros and cons and decide, “You know what. Adultery seems like a good idea.”

Did the man coax her into it? Maybe he was the love of her life that she never got to be with and the opportunity arose so she took it. Perhaps the lure of forbidden love was too much for her. Or she suffered from some deeper temptation that she struggled unsuccessfully to control. Perhaps it was her first time. Was her friend down the street committing adultery with the milkman for years and never caught. Yet she was caught after only doing it once. Who knows her reasons? But the fact is she knew she should not do it. She knew the penalty. Yet she went ahead with it. This shows that even when we know right from wrong and are aware of the punishment, our carnal nature inclines to act contrary to how God wants us to act.

The good news is that our carnal fleshly nature is put to death through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This means that sin, which operates through our fleshly nature, no longer has the strength to overpower us. So, no matter what the temptation, there is always a way to escape it. It does not have control over you. If it did still have control over you, then Jesus’ work on the cross is to no effect. But Jesus’ work on the cross is all-sufficient in every way and broke sin’s dominion.

Where did the man go?

You know the expression, it takes two to tango? Well, where is the man in this story? There are explanations for his exclusion, but I think his absence points to something quite basic. If we do something wrong in cahoots with others typically one person is the fall-guy and the other tends to get away lightly. You just have to watch two children misbehaving to see this work out in life. Both do wrong but when the parent appears one of them gets the blame and the other gets off lightly. This is what took place in this passage. The accusers caught the adulteress and took her away to face the full wight of judgement but the adulterer assumingly got away.

I do not know what happened to the man in this story. But since the story says that the woman “was caught” we can explain his absence  by assuming he escaped. Perhaps he had fewer clothes to put on so he managed to flee, but I doubt he fled into anything good. However, the accusers delivered the woman to the true judge who always does right. He did what was right for her and he does what is right for us.

This means that if you experienced shame because you were exposed for participating in the same wrong everyone else does, then you should express thankfulness because the Lord did not pick you out to condemn you. He chose you to experience a new level of his grace and move on to better things.

I do not know the final outcome of the couple and their families from the news article. Like everything else in the news it was a flash in the pan. But my prayer is that the Lord brings reconciliation and healing to the families and that they come to know him as their saviour.

As for us, remember that:

  • What others mean for bad God will turn to good
  • Strive to be part of a healthy community of believers
  • Sin has no power over us.
  • The Lord is for us in every way.

I hope these few points help you. My advice to everyone on pretty much every topic is to read the bible regularly, and pray, pray, pray. God is able.