One of these days I am going to get myself a bracelet made with WDJW on. And before you ask, no, I haven’t spelled that wrong – if I wanted a “What Would Jesus Do”bracelet, I could just go and buy one. I wonder if anyone would notice the difference? And if they did, what would they think anyway? Probably that I must be a bit dyslexic, something of that ilk.
Never mind WWJD, I am more interested in WDJW: “What Did Jesus Write”. I don’t mean books. I know he never wrote a book, not that we know of anyway; anything he did write has long since bitten the dust. But speaking of dust, he did write on the floor, and that’s what I want to know. Just what did Jesus write on the ground that day? Whatever he wrote, it was pretty powerful stuff. John tells us the story:
Early the next morning Jesus went back to the Temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. “Teacher”, they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?”
They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?” “No one, sir”, she answered. “Well, then”, Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” (John 8:2-11, GNB)
Wow. What Did Jesus Write? I have some ideas, but just ideas. I won’t find out for sure till I get to ask him in person; I look forward to that, and have a few other questions lined up for that moment too.
Imagine the scene. They drag the woman in, pushing their way through the crowd to the front, interrupt Jesus in mid sermon – that’s another of my questions: “What were you talking about right at that moment?”, for I cannot imagine that this caught him unawares and suspect rather that he was already preparing the crowd for what was to follow. Maybe something along the lines of: “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.” Anyway, back to the temple… They push the woman out into the arena, and deliver their carefully contrived trick question.
Trick questions. Jesus asked his fair share of those too. Try this one, also delivered in the temple: “John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” That sent the chief priests and elders into a tail-spin. “If we answer this way… no, we can’t do that, but there again if we answer that way… no, no, no, no, no, that won’t do either. Best say we don’t know.”
Jesus could have found himself in the same mess. “Moses did say an adulteress should die, and I can’t really just go and contradict Moses. But then if I agree, I’ll deny the Father’s love and compassion. Oh, help…” What are you supposed to do you do when neither of the two available options is acceptable? Well, like Alexander and the Gordian knot, there was a much better way.
Apparently ignoring the question, Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. I can’t think that he was just passing the time of day or practicing his calligraphy; he wanted the crowd to get something without being told up front. But he wasn’t on a beach with fresh wet sand to inscribe a message in or writing on a steamed up window; it was the temple courts, according to Josephus “laid with stones of all sorts” throughout. It’s not easy to write something that can be read on a cold stone floor like that – try it some time – though perhaps a little easier than the youth-group game where you have to spell out a word to your team by writing letters in the air with your rear end…
So What Did Jesus Write? My top guess is that he quoted Leviticus 20:10. Not most Christians’ favourite book of the Bible, but Jesus seemed to appreciate it. The verse would have steadily emerged, together with a running commentary no doubt, as the onlookers gradually deciphered letter upon letter:
“I… F… If, A… If a… M… A… N… If a man… C… O… M… M… I… T… S… If a man commits…
“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife —with the wife of his neighbor—…”
Time for another barrage of questions: “Yes, that’s the one, that’s what Moses said. So, do we stone her? Any other suggestions on how to kill her? What are you waiting for? Lead the way teacher! Want us to get some stones for you?”
Jesus looked up from the floor, delivered his now infamous “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”, and then went back to writing:
“… both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death”. Let’s have that again in big letters, bold font, point size 160 please. “Both the adulterer and the adulteress.” Italics and underlined. “Both the adulterer… the adulterer… the adulterer… Both. Both. Both! BOTH!!!”
There was the woman, frightened and shamed, but where was the man? By definition it takes two to commit adultery, and one of them is a man. If she had been caught in the very act, she certainly wasn’t by herself. Where was the man? More to the point, why hadn’t he been dragged out with her to share her shame and intended punishment? What were her accusers playing at? Their well thought-out plot to trap Jesus suddenly didn’t look so well thought out and they found their own hypocrisy laid as bare as the anonymous woman’s sin for all to see.
The most surprising part of the account is still to come. In their dealings with Jesus, the temple authorities rarely seem to have been moved by conscience or an acute sense of right and wrong. Self-preservation and political astuteness were more the order of the day. But it seems that Jesus’ method wrought something deep. The older ones were the first to bow out, and one by one the rest followed suit. You see, Jesus didn’t just love that woman, and want to give her a chance to find forgiveness and life; he loved the men too, and his final words to her could just as well have been his words to them.
Jesus’ words live on, just as relevant today to all of us who have ever experienced that “aha” moment, the sudden realization of our own sin. When Jesus stoops to write on the hard stone of our lives and God’s perfect strategy brings us undeniably face to face with who we are, we do well to hear for ourselves: “I do not condemn you. Get on with life… but do not sin again.”