A woman has a son who will sit in jail for the rest of his life because he murdered his wife. The mother loves him anyway. .
The only reason some parents appreciate pets is because the children love them so much. Like my cat nicknamed PIB (Pain in the ________).
The examples represent a certain kind of love in which value is created by being loved. I have a bottle cap collection that would look worthless to most people, yet to me the bottlecaps represent an era from my childhood. Our first inclination is that we want to be naturally lovable, yet it is a step of maturity and humility when we come to realize that we are sinners by nature, not worthy of God’s love or anybody else for that matter, and accept God loves us anyway in spite of our sinful nature. God creates value in us by his love.
Here is a classic story, “Rosemary’s Rag Doll,” told by Ian Pitt-Watson. Pitt-Watson was my preaching professor in seminary. It was a privilege to hear him tell this story in person:
Rosemary’s Rag Doll
There is a natural, logical kind of loving that loves lovely things and lovely people. That’s logical. But there is another kind of loving that doesn’t look for value in what it loves, but that CREATES value in what it loves. Like Rosemary’s rag doll.
When Rosemary, my youngest child, was three, she was given a little rag doll, which quickly became an inseparable companion. She had other toys that were intrinsically far more valuable, but none that she loved like she loved the rag doll.
Soon the rag doll became more and more rag and less and less doll. It also became more and more dirty. If you tried to clean the rag doll, it became more ragged still. And if you didn’t try to clean the rag doll, it became dirtier still. The sensible thing to do was to trash the rag doll. But that was unthinkable for anyone who loved my child. If you loved Rosemary, you loved the rag doll—it was part of the package.
“If anyone says ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar,” (I John 4:20) “love me, love my rag dolls,” says God, “including the one you see when you look in the mirror. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Ian Pitt-Watson called the scripture in John 8, “the love that would not die.” A woman is caught in adultery. Let’s call her a rag doll whose worth comes from the love of the Lord. She has no intrinsic value. She is an unnamed sinner that could be anybody. There is no indication these are unjust charges. Nothing tells us it wasn’t really her fault. No excuses are offered. We must conclude she was unfaithful to her husband.
You could argue by our cultural standards her sin does not rise to the level of deserving to be stoned. You could argue that the law of the time is unfair in that a man would not be stoned for the same offense. But those are side issues. She is presented as a sinner that deserves death. There is nothing lovely or admirable about her. The woman is like the rag doll: Soon the rag doll became more and more rag and less and less doll. It also became more and more dirty. If you tried to clean the rag doll, it became more ragged still. And if you didn’t try to clean the rag doll, it became dirtier still. The sensible thing to do was to trash the rag doll. But that was unthinkable… “If anyone is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Jesus saw something in this woman. He does not excuse the sin, but he sees the woman. The love of Jesus gives her a value in spite of the dirtiness and ragginess.
The reason this story is titled by Ian Pitt-Watson, “the love that would not die” is because of the history of the text itself. No other passage of scripture has such a diverse history as this scripture. If you look at the notes in the NIV, it says something like this passage does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. There are hundreds of early manuscripts spanning centuries. No other writing in the world has such evidence as the Bible so close to the originals. Manuscript study is very detailed, so I won’t bore you with details (and I'm not really capable), but briefly, this story of the woman caught in adultery appears in only a few early manuscripts. For hundreds of years the story disappears, ancient writers make reference to it, then suddenly the story appears in different manuscripts. Some manuscripts have the story in different places, then it drops out, only to return again. It’s the love that would not die. It’s as if ancient copyists thought Jesus was too easy on the adulteress so some let it go, but the story would not die, so back it came.
The love that would not die is a story of the love of Jesus for the woman caught in adultery, giving her purpose and value. This woman is no different from us; she has no intrinsic worth that deserves the love of God, yet he loves us anyway. Sinners are redeemed and set free by the love of God. The teachers humiliated the woman, made her stand before the group, accused her of adultery, and reminded Jesus of the need to stone her. The Bible says it’s a trick, the teachers of the law don’t really care about the woman, they care about Jesus response: will he follow the law or not? He bends down and scribbles on the ground. IMO, don’t waste your time trying to speculate what Jesus may have scribbled. The Bible tells us nothing of what he wrote, which leads me to believe its not important.
The accusers seem to be disappointed and confused because Jesus wiggled out of their trick. Instead, Jesus proclaims extraordinary good news. First of all he puts all sin on the same level, and then he enlarges the love of God to extend to them as well. The woman is not the only rag doll in this story – the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are also rag dolls: “If anyone is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Jesus saw something in the teachers of the law and Pharisees. Jesus does not say to the religious leaders, then let’s stone you, too. He does not excuse the sin, but he sees the Jewish leaders. The love of Jesus gives them a value in spite of their dirtiness and ragginess. When Jesus says to the woman at the end, “Then neither do I condemn you,” by extension, this applies to the sin of the Teachers and Pharisees. In other words, you still have an opportunity to repent, to be forgiven, to change, to find healing and hope.
Jesus departs from the story of Rosemary’s rag doll in that at the end, he envisions the woman as a brand new doll: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus love for us creates value, but his love also gives us hope to be renewed and cleansed. Jesus accepts us as we are, but then challenges us to become new.
You are the rag doll that is loved by God. His love creates value in you: “If anyone is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Jesus sees something in you. He does not excuse sin, but he sees you. Soon the rag doll became more and more rag and less and less doll. It also became more and more dirty. If you tried to clean the rag doll, it became more ragged still. And if you didn’t try to clean the rag doll, it became dirtier still. The sensible thing to do was to trash the rag doll. But that was unthinkable…The love of Jesus gives you a value in spite of the dirtiness and ragginess. You are the rag doll that is loved by God. Like Rosemary’s Rag Doll, the Lord creates value in you through his love. You, a sinner, condemned, unclean are loved by the Lord Jesus Christ. God establishes your worth as a person by his extraordinary love.
But there’s more to the story than that. Our mission in this community, in our families, in our daily life, is to see the rag dolls all around us. If you love God, then you have to love his rag dolls. To love the unlovable, to value those who are hurting, wounded, unsure of themselves. The incredible gift of accepting those who are struggling and searching.
Like Rosemary’s rag doll, may we see ourselves as having value because God loves us, because others love us, and may we create value in others by loving them. The woman caught in adultery was very raggedy and dirty, but Jesus Christ created value in her by loving her anyway. Amen.
June 21, 2009