Lately, I find myself consumed with the “small” actions of God. I roll them over and over in my mind. On the surface, they seem rather menial. The God Who Walks. The God Who Runs. But my meditations are revealing new and beautiful depths of God. The kind of depths that draw praise from my lips and worship from my spirit and body. I am amazed by who He is and what He does and I am honored to share my recent meditation of The God Who Stoops.
“The Shrine” by John W. Waterhouse
To stoop is to bend the head or body forward and downward. For example, one might stoop to pick something up or smell a rose. One might also stoop out of deference or submission descending from a superior rank, dignity, or status (Merriam-Webster). In modern language, we may be more apt to use ‘stoop’ to refer to lowering oneself morally, as in she stooped to adultery.
Interestingly, in my every day life, “stoop” is not a word I use or even hear. My first inclination when hearing the word was to apply it to the more derogatory definition. Naturally, when I read of God stooping, my curiosity piqued. Why did God stoop? Surely He never lowered Himself morally! He is the standard of morality. So, what does it mean when God stoops? If God stoops, should I stoop?
This meditation begins in the book of John, chapter 8, verses 1-11. I have always heard this passage referenced as the story of the adulterous woman. I’m neither a bible scholar nor a literary scholar, but I suggest this is a misleading title. At first glance, the reader (including me) presumes the following scripture verses are about adultery and the woman is the object or the antagonist of the story. In truth, as I dig into this passage, the woman plays the smallest role. The antagonist is religion. Jesus is the protagonist and grace is the theme. Perhaps this blog is better titled “The Grace of Stooping.”
At this time in history, the disciples are still struggling with Jesus’s identity as Messiah. To the world, Jesus has a reputation as a teacher. Unlike modern, western educators, ancient teachers in the east assumed a sitting posture to teach, though typically from an elevated platform. When I read this passage, I envision Jesus sitting in a slightly raised position in the temple when suddenly, religious leaders bring a woman into the court interrupting His teaching to initiate an execution.
I imagine the woman was terrified and feeling alone and isolated. All eyes focused on her. Perhaps there was pointing and murmuring as she faced her accusers and prepared for the worse. I can relate to feeling accused and isolated as fingers point and hurtful remarks are whispered. As the religious leaders demand this woman’s stoning, Jesus makes an interesting move.
He doesn’t hop on the condemnation bandwagon. Nor does He stand to protect or defend this woman from her accusers. Instead, He stoops. In silence. Jesus moves to a position lower than his students, lower than the religious leaders, and lower than the woman accused of stooping to adultery. I find this movement significant. From His conception — even before — Jesus lowered Himself from Heaven to elevate us into the Kingdom of God.
The first mention of Jesus stooping in this passage captures my attention and momentarily takes my breath away. It is a moment for awe as He physically demonstrates grace. The religious leaders didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ. The disciples weren’t sure, either. But I know. I know that at this point in the story, the Christ, the Majesty who created the heavens and earth, lowers Himself beneath all others. I do not believe this was an act of submission or deference, but of confidence in grace and truth (and perhaps a bit of shock and awe!). This descent also draws all eyes to Himself, away from the woman, away from the religious leaders. He is now the center of the story.
As the religious leaders look upon Jesus, dissatisfied with his response (or lack of response), they protest and demand a verbal answer. “What say you?”
In response, Jesus straightens. He returns to His original position — His teaching position. Perhaps He even stands and is face to face with the religious leaders. The Greek verb used to describe Jesus’s “straightening” refers to the body as well as the soul. Not only is Jesus’ physical posture raised, but so is His soul. In this posture — a heavenward posture— He challenges their religious motivation: ”He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). In other words, test yourselves against your own religion. Would you survive your own judgment and condemnation? This question has the power to knock me down on my best days. It demands truth and introspection, not condemnation. Jesus never condemns.
Jesus again stoops as the leaders inwardly search themselves. One by one, they walk away until only Jesus and the woman remain. He straightens to His heavenward posture and speaks directly to her for the first time. “Did no one condemn you. . .I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more” (vv. 10-11). Don’t look back! Focus on Me and walk forward.
I learned this kind of grace for myself from the letters of Brother Lawrence. He beautifully and aptly models how to forgive oneself, let go, and move forward. Only in this recent meditation have I discovered this was first the message of Jesus. I do not condemn you. Do not condemn yourself. Instead, sin no more and continue the journey with Me.
From the onset, Jesus embraced this woman with grace, while others sought condemnation. Jesus embraces us with the same grace today. It does not condone sin. To the contrary, grace offers life. “All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end” (Romans 5:20-21, MSG).
I love that God stoops to lift us up. Surely, in those moments when the woman felt her life was at stake, her sole focus was on Jesus. As He stooped, her eyes lowered to follow the form of His body and as He straightened, her gaze lifted and her soul elevated heavenward. I learned from my husband the importance of looking up. When all else fails, look up. Look at the night sky and see the majesty of God. Then mountains fall into their place and giants fall to the ground.
One question remains in my meditation. If God stoops, should I? If the Creator of all life stoops to elevate the ones He loves, then who am I to take any other action. Jesus does not place me in the seat of judgment. He works with me to love Him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. So, when I stoop as Jesus stoops, I am at once demonstrating grace to my neighbor and surrendering judgment to Jesus, the King and true Judge. This is the woman I want to be. One who stoops, who loves without conditions, and sees beyond appearance and past actions. I want my life to be a reflection of Christ doing only what I see my Father in heaven doing, no matter how small the action may seem.