Thursday, December 13, 2018

Whatever Was It That He Wrote?

The problem with stones in glass houses . . . .
Anyone who thinks the Bible is always crystal clear, that everything we read is unwaveringly black and white, should reconsider. Much of what the Scriptures teach is unequivocal – although many choose to disbelieve or discount it. However, every once in a while, we read something that makes us want to scratch our heads and simply say, “Huh?”

I could cite numerous examples, but one that immediately comes to mind is Jesus being confronted by a gang of self-righteous religious leaders about to stone a young woman for committing an act of adultery. We find the scene in John 8:1-11. These Pharisees and teachers, feeling threatened by Jesus’ popularity, were seeking to trap Him into doing or saying something that would discredit Him.

“In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” they demanded, thinking they had a “gotcha!” moment. The passage proceeds to explain that without uttering a word, Jesus bent down and started writing something on the ground with His finger. The question that comes to mind, and for which there is no definitive answer, is: What did He write?

Theologians have debated and conjectured over this through the centuries, but no one knows – or can know – for certain. Just as no one knows for sure what the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” might have been. All we know is that whatever Jesus scribbled in the dust was important enough to get the pious pitchers’ attention. Next, He stood up, declared, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then he stooped down and again wrote on the ground.

No clue about exactly what Jesus wrote either time, but whatever it was, it caused each of the woman’s accusers to drop the stones they were preparing to hurl at her and, one by one, quietly slink away. Your guess is as good as mine regarding what He had written. But I do have a hypothesis. (Or perhaps, a theory. Definitely a speculation.)

Being fully God, as well as fully man, Jesus could have done whatever He wanted, right? I believe when He wrote on the ground, each accuser could read some significant sin (or sins) that he had committed, reminding him that he had little basis for making charges of wrongdoing against others. When Jesus said the one that was without sin should be the first to cast a stone, He knew He had turned the tables. He was the one declaring, “Gotcha!”

How could Jesus write and have each man read something different, something very specifically personal? Well, if He was God, that shouldn’t have been much of a problem, should it? Or maybe it was a particular sin all of the men shared in common, exposing their hypocrisy.

Jesus had also declared during His so-called Sermon on the Mount, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

He might have made that statement numerous times in other settings, just as itinerant preachers often give the same sermons to different audiences. So for at least for some of the woman’s accusers, his “note in the dirt” might have been a pointed reminder of what they had already heard Him teach.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t letting the woman totally off the hook. After the would-be stone throwers had disappeared, He asked her, “’Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (John 8:10-11). He offered grace and forgiveness, along with the instruction, “Stop doing what you’ve been doing.”

So what exactly did Jesus scrawl into the dirt that day? Only God knows. But it’s still instructive for us as well. It’s so easy to judge, even condemn, others for their behavior. Recognizing wrongdoing in others comes easily for many of us. When we do so, maybe it would help to imagine Jesus inscribing our sins in the dirt, inviting us to read what He’s written, and saying, “Okay, now. If you’re without sin, then go ahead, cast that stone.”

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