Every Christian in his or her best Christianese can define Grace. Unmerited favor... God's favor to an undeserving species called humans.
Oh... but it gets much more personal than that. It gets in your face and in your heart before you can truly know what Grace means. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago and posted it here last August, I think. It's called No Stones. It is Grace illustrated.
It was hot that day. Sweat dripped from my forehead into my eyes and stung. It slid down my back making my robe stick to it, but that didn’t help me keep the front closed. My feet were bare because the men who dragged me from my bed never gave me time to put on my shoes. One of those high and mighty Sanhedrin guards dragged me into the hot street. He didn’t care what I looked liked evidently, because he didn’t bother to toss me my girdle as he dragged me out of the house.
One guard took pity on me. His eyes were kind but guarded. I guess he was afraid he would be punished if he showed me any sympathy, but at least he threw my robe at me as we passed through the front room to the street. Oh, I wish I had my girdle and this oaf would quit twisting my arms so I could at least keep the front closed. Shame washed through me, flushing my heated face. I ducked my head to the side so the women across the way would not recognize me. Who was I kidding? Of course they knew who I was. I was the “prideful bride”. They talked about me. Whispered about me. I provided many topics for whispered conversation at the well. “She wasn’t so proud this morning, no. She was put in her place last night.” A nudge to the one beside her, “No bruises on her face, this morning that I can see.”
I hurried along with the guards. Not because I was anxious to go where they were taking me. I could only imagine the pit they would throw me in and the jagged stones that would be hurled at my tender flesh. No. I hurried along because the sand burned so hot, the soles of my feet were baking like bread in the oven. The Sanhedrin guard kept pulling and tugging at my arm seeming to delight in my embarrassment; jerking at my hand as I desperately tried to cover myself. I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed.I thought what we were doing was in secret. He had told me he loved me and he was certainly handsome and he certainly treated me better than my own husband did. He didn’t beat me or scream harsh words at me. For so long I had longed for those tender words from my husband but they never came. Was there nothing in this world that would soothe that ache of loneliness? Was there nothing that could fill this dark void in the depths of my being? I longed for children, but God did not grant them. I longed for tender caresses but none were saved for me, only harsh words scraped my ears instead of gentle fingers touching my cheek. I longed for love and searched everywhere for it, finding only emptiness. Was there nothing that would soothe this ache? Was there nothing that could fill this void?The troop suddenly came to a halt.
I looked up from my hands which clutched the tattered ends of my robe. Two guards in front of me moved to the side and then back, leaving me alone. I was alone in the middle of a crowd. The man they called Jesus was standing to one side of the clearing around me. Fresh shame washed through me. A thin robe, made for the bedroom not the streets of Jerusalem, was my only shield. I found myself standing alone in front of the Man called Jesus!
Oh, yes. I’d heard of Him. I’d heard of that day He had fed so many and about that day He had whipped the money stealers in the Temple. I had wanted to hear Him teach, but I was afraid. I over heard one of the women talking about how He had looked through her right inside her heart. She had felt such shame she had turned away and never wanted to see the Man again. That made me afraid of what He would see in my heart. It was ugly and I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone poking around in my thoughts and feelings. I hurt too badly for that. No. I was better off not searching Him out because that way I could avoid any more pain. But, now, someone had taken me right to His feet and I couldn’t escape.
There was a lot of shouting but I heard none of it, because His eyes were speaking to my heart. He knew what I had done that afternoon and a dozen afternoons before this one. He searched my heart in that instance and found it devoid of hope. His expression turned tender with love.
What little strength I had, left my trembling legs and I dropped to the ground, cowering in dirt that was cleaner than me. My embarrassment turned to despair and in mortification I dropped my gaze to the dirt thinking I was no better than that dirt. I could not look into His eyes ever again. I could not raise my head and tears burned my eyes taking the sting of the sweat from them. My tears soaked into the cracked earth, swallowed up into that thirsty sand which took and took and gave nothing back.
Why did I feel so filthy, so unworthy? I paid my woman’s dues at the Temple. I served my time helping the poor. I made my husband’s fine raiment. I submitted to the cruel truth that I would never present a new life to the world, nor would my husband know the joy of circumcising his own son and holding him up to Adonai. When I realized that, I knew how deep a hole hope carved when it left the heart. I was empty, so empty that the shame and guilt were too heavy to bear. I buried my face in the sand, legs trembling, muscles tense, agony so great my breath came in short gasps, stirring the sand and dust.
The throng around us must have been noisy... the city was always noisy. Yet, in that moment, I was deaf to the world. My shame had clothed me like my robe could not, enveloping me in a flush of guilt. Alone. Empty. Unlovely. Sick.
I was so unworthy to touch His shoe or to let a tear trickle onto his toe. Afraid. So afraid. He would see inside my heart and then I would be exposed. Laid bare. Oy vey. I could not bear it. Accusations hurled over my head as I felt burning sand sear my cheek. Oh, if only that sand would open up I would scuttle into the hole and hide. My heart cried out to my mind, “Hide from that tender look?” Yes! Oh, yes, for I was not worthy of that look. I had sinned. The whole world was screaming my sin, exposing every detail of that sultry afternoon. There was no forgiveness for it. I was guilty of adultery; caught in the very act. I would have to drink the bilious drink or be stoned for the adulteress I was. Why had I listened to that seducer’s soft words and yielded to the yearning of my body? I recoiled at the memory now.
The stones would come next. I tightened my muscles and hunched my back actually hoping the stones would come soon and take my miserable life. I would prefer that over the shame the women across the way would toss at me. How could I face what would surely come? Certainly, my husband would never appear and beg for my life. His heart was colder and harder than the stone held in the fist not two yards from my face. He would toss me out and there would be no place for me to go. Nothing for me to do but go to the brothel and supply the needs of the Roman soldiers.
“Come stones, come,” I breathed into the sand. Those stones would release me from the emptiness that filled my life. I was sure of that. Anything would be better than the milling throng that pressed in seeming to crush me deeper into the dirt.
The shouting stopped and the only sound was the soft plop of my tears into the sand. His finger wrote in the dirt. I couldn't see what He was writing. I held my breath and the valley between my shoulder blades deepened as I scrunched into a small target, certain the stones would peck away my life. Of course the sand that rejected swallowing my body when I silently begged for it to close over me, would gulp my life's blood down its ever thirsty throat.
There was a thud. Then, I heard a harder thud. A stone rolled close to my face, coming between me and that foot I was not worthy to touch. Then whitened knuckles loosened, and thud followed thud as stones of different colors and sizes dropped around me. Miracle of miracles no jagged-edged stone touched me or sliced my tender flesh.Then a shoe scraped the sand, then another, then another. A few moments and it was quiet, the sun beating on my back. I felt His hand then, on my head. It was a gentle caress as His fingers slipped under my chin and He wiped the tears from my cheeks.I dared to look up.His eyes were tender and full of forgiveness. He spoke to me then. “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” I saw those men who had dragged me down the street were all gone! There was no one left except this Man who looked at me with compassion and love.I said, “No one, Lord.” Unbelievably… Astoundingly, He said, “Nor do I condemn you. You may go and sin no more.”
I owe my life to Him.
That day is when my real life started. I had no idea life could be so full of joy. Oh, no, my husband never forgave me. He gave me my divorce papers and I’ve tucked them away in my little wooden chest along with the robe I wore that day. I had to save it, to remind me of what I did not want to go back to. I am finally free of those bonds and that feels too good to ever go back down that path again.
In Him, in my Lord, I have taken refuge; He shall never let me be put to shame. He heard and set me free. He is my rock and my refuge and I shall always find safety in Him. He is my Hope. (Ps 71) Therefore, I shall strive to never shame Him.
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