Reflection on John 8.1-11 (Lent)

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

We live in a busy world, in a world that take the old adage ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ very seriously indeed. Those who are in full-time employment often find the concept of ‘full-time’ to have expanded beyond any bounds that might be defined as ‘reasonable’. Those who are retired take the same principle of perpetual motion into the way in which they fill every waking moment of every day. We live in a busy world, a world where we leave no time for careful thought and sincere prayer.

In today’s reading we hear of Jesus being asked a life-or-death question. A woman has been caught in adultery and, according to Jewish law, she should be stoned to death. The scribes and the Pharisees bring the woman before Jesus and test him by asking his opinion in the matter. Rather than jumping up and entering upon a verbal crusade to save the woman’s life, we are told that Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. Then, after taking time to think, he said: Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Then Jesus returned to his doodling in the dust on the ground.

We are often confronted with difficult questions. The decisions we make and the opinions we offer might not concern the life and death of another person, but they may have ramifications far beyond our imaginings. In today’s reading we are being given a model of how to behave when faced with the challenges of daily life. Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground when he was asked to pronounce on the serious issue of how to deal with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus paused and thought. We can also presume that in the time he was doodling on the ground he was also engaged in prayer. Jesus’ actions should be the blueprint by which we live out our own daily lives.

As Jesus looked and thought and prayed he realised that this woman should not die because this was not the message he brought into this world. Yes, he came to fulfil the law, but the law he came to honour was God’s law, a law based on compassion and forgiveness, and not on spiteful retribution and the setting of examples.

Too often we stand with the scribes and the Pharisees in the way we quickly condemn those who are different from us. We adopt, and defend,  principles and codes of conduct that make sense to us without ever considering the terrible effects our words and actions might be having on others. Rather than seeking the compassionate path of forgiveness and love, we reinforce the shields with which we surround ourselves and seek retribution and revenge.

Let us pray that we might learn to bend down in all humility, write on the ground in all patience, and then allow our words and actions to be guided by our heavenly Father. Then, when God does lead us down the path he chooses for us, let us pray for the courage to stand up to the bullies and help those who are weak and in need of Christ’s loving embrace.