Bent and Tender

I always feel a heaviness in my gut when I imagine the terror of the woman in St. John’s story, the woman used as bait for trapping Jesus. Standing absolutely by herself in that violent circle and enclosed by angry, leering men, panic must have consumed her. Plotters snatched her from her lover’s bed, and now, half-dressed, she stood in the middle of the square with dust-caked streaks marking her face and shame marking her heart. Seared with a scarlet A, she stood alone amid a sea of hate.

I find it curious that when the Pharisees asked Jesus if he was ready to grab a rock, John notes Jesus’ precise movement. Jesus, the story says, “bent down.” He did not answer. He did not theologize. Jesus crouched low and doodled in the dirt.

Reams have been written on what Jesus scribbled on that street, but I’m more intrigued by the fact that Jesus bent low. This posture of humble tenderness was entirely at odds with the highly charged moment. This bending was a quiet, tender movement that, by its very action, refused to cooperate with the coercive question, with the agenda, with the fear. Jesus would not stand with the woman’s assailants. Jesus would not stand with the powerful. In fact, Jesus would not stand at all. Jesus bent down.

In a world where too many voices (from all sides) hurl accusation, sarcasm and dogma, I want to learn to bend down. I do not merely want to speak in kinder tones or hone effective listening skills. Nor am I indicating a desire to surrender all conviction or clear-eyed gumption. Rather, I mean something far more difficult, something that unwinds us from a much deeper core. I hope to be one identified by tears more than edicts, by hopes more than fears, by the kind of strength that bends down. I hope to become a man of tenacious tenderness.

“There are some men too gentle to live among the wolves,” says Kavanaugh. I believe there is something here we need to listen to, something I fear, at times, we might lose altogether. We need women and men who refuse the way of the wolves.

I have no idea what Jesus wrote that day, bending close to the dirt. It wouldn’t shock me, however, if he wrote something like this: Grace, too gentle for the wolves.