I, too, have been thinking about Sunday's sermon. When it was asked how the woman felt when Jesus didn't condemn her, my honest reaction was "loneliness" or something like that. Putting myself in her place, I felt anger, almost like Jesus had denied her/me something that we deserved. It felt like I was being ignored, or like something about my identiy was being taken away.
I have seen this in myself before, at least at the surface level. At the surface, I want to be able to pay pennance for my sins since that allows my redemption to happen at least partially by my own power. When Jesus takes away the woman's opportunity to beg for forgiveness, it exposes that his redemption comes wholly of his own willingness and choice, not out of some belated virtue in us. This is the old answer I've always had to this sort of situation - to characterize my desire for pennance as a rebellious desire to keep control of my own spiritual status. It's true, as far as it goes, but I started to wonder if that was really the problem. I'm starting to think that the root problem is more fundamental: our identity is wrong.
At least for me, a substantial part of my identity is wrapped up in the whole sin/redemption cycle. The way I see myself is entirely wrapped up in the fact that I am a redeemed sinner. Whatever relationship I have with God is an outcome of His victory over my sin. This is certainly true at one level, but it doesn't seem to be the way that Jesus treats the woman. Implicit in his reaction to her is a openness and lack of condemnation. He doesn't explicitly say that her sins are forgiven (which my law-based mentality expects); instead, he simply chooses not to condemn her.
The implication I draw out of this is that forgiveness is not always the point. It seems like Jesus is experiencing relationship with and love for the woman entirely outside of the sin/redemption cycle; he just interacts with her as a loving person. Sure, he then tells her to leave her life of sin, but this is AFTER the relationship already exists.
The Calvinist in me has a comfortable explanation for this: Christ, by his choice, has saved her and regenerated her heart. Only AFTER this happens is he capable of interacting with her in the context of relationship; so, although it is not stated, her sins are already forgiven when he says that he does not condemn her.
True enough, perhaps. Maybe that's what's really happening. Yet it's not what the text says. The text is silent on the issue of forgiveness. It's the silence that shocks me. If sin is the critical issue at hand (as I would typically say), then it must be addressed first.
You all are probably scratching your heads now. I'm just saying that we know our relationship with God includes (at least) two grand ideas:
I'm simply saying that I have always constructed my identity in this way:
That is, we deal with sin first (since it's the "important" thing), then we begin growing in intimacy. There's certainly Biblical basis for that model. But I'm thinking that there is also Biblical basis for this model:
wherein God loves us and interacts with us first, and forgives us as part of that relationship. Certainly you can see that in the Old Testament: "You will be my people, and I will be your God." The laws (and thus sin, judgement and forgiveness) came in the context of that relationship. The relationship was first.
So, I think that I miss out on part of how God sees me when I entirely think of myself in the context of only one construction. I find myself unable to experience joy in the intimacy with God outside of the context of an awareness of my sin and his actions in redeeming me. I am starting to think that God wants me to take joy in him, and that sometimes in that joy I will be blissfully unaware of the terrible realities of my sin. I have tasted this, from time to time. I have tasted of the sweetness of just enjoying him without purpose or justification. I could feel how much he delighted in me, and I delighted in him as well. Perhaps that's what was going on there between Jesus and the woman.
So Mike, I write this to encourage you to not only live in the truth of God's forgiveness of your sins. That is true, and it is good that you know it. But also live in the delight that, at some level I don't quite understand, you are a wonderful creation of God, unblemished.
(I want to change that last sentence to "unblemished in his eyes," but that's just the problem, isn't it? I can't let go of my sin identity. The best I have done is to say that God the Allknowing somehow overlooks something that is so obvious to us down here. Yet if God truly sees as "washed white as snow" and as "slaves to righteousness," then there must be some truth there that transcends our petty observations.)