What was he writing? (Jn 8: 1-11) Of all of the things that are so obvious about the story of the woman caught in adultery, the one thing that often pique’s people’s curiosity the most is: “What was Jesus writing?” For hundreds of years no one has really come up with an answer that scholars or exegetes have agreed upon! This is so typical of Jesus. The scene is meant to make us think in a different way, outside of the typical box! In that light I would like to pose a different question about this Gospel scene; “Why was Jesus writing?” Though one could argue that his purposeful gesture to be in touch with the earth, the dirt, is an echo of the creative act of God making something out of nothing, there’s more to it than that!
What’s really going on in this scene? The Scribes and Pharisees were anxious to make a spectacle of the woman and prove Jesus wrong. They promptly shove the accused to the middle and all eyes are upon her. The crowd is agitated and ready for blood. But what does Jesus do? He immediately assumes a posture that shifts all attention to himself. The people present immediately began asking themselves “What is he writing?” What has Jesus actually done? In the heat of the accusations he has instantly and mercifully taken all attention off the woman and placed it on himself! What a gesture of compassion! She is no longer the one that the crowd is riveted on. He then makes one brief statement; “Let one who is among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”, and bends down once again! In this very clever twist, he has thwarted the Pharisees and delivered the woman from public humiliation and a sure death. In Jewish law the privilege of the first stone, in this form of justice, belonged to the witnesses of the crime! Instantly the accusers become the accused! The person throwing a stone acknowledges their presence at the crime. Once again the Lord preserves the woman’s dignity by bending down and writing. In this position it would have been difficult for him to look at which men were ready to stone her, and then abandoned their intent. He waits until they all leave and the only one left is the woman herself!
His greeting to her has no words of judgment, or chastisement, it’s tender and kind: “Woman, where are they?” She must have been astonished; moments ago she was at the brink of death! She must know that this is the teacher that all are talking about! Suddenly because of him she has a lease on life, a release from condemnation and a chance to be brand new!
The one thing that we can count on in all of Jesus teaching is that nothing will be as we expect it to be. This woman was caught in one of the most serious of sins, but so were the Pharisees and Scribes! Jesus does not condemn, he does not judge, he only offers us newness, in the most unexpected way. He proves again that even the most serious sinner can have a new life in his presence and that he “breaks in” to our sinful lives when, where and in a way that we least expect! Jesus always shows us that God’s intent never lacks in generosity. He shows the abundance of His love by demonstrating that in any situation, the only thing he is concerned about is how to comfort and protect his people. He always gives us one more chance to say yes to his love. All we have to do is resolve to “go and sin no more”! It really is that simple! What was he writing? It’s really not important!
Copyright © Lent 2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
Check out more of Kathryn’s thinking @ www.atravelersview.org
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