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The Writing in the Dirt

Scripture Reading | John 8:1-11

and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 

10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?” 

11 She said, “No one, sir.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”[1]

Reflections

This is such a fantastic picture of the love of Jesus. John does not leave room for ambiguity when it comes to the accusation made against the woman in this story. She was busted. Caught in the act! (I find it notable that only the woman was dragged out … not the man. This might be our first clue of the kind of hypocrisy Jesus was confronting. But I digress.) The legal experts and Pharisees clearly see an opportunity to leverage this situation to trap Jesus. I suspect they thought Jesus would simply forgive the woman providing further proof, in their minds, that Jesus was disregarding God’s law. 

What does Jesus do? He gets his hands dirty.

There is no shortage of theories about what Jesus was writing. Perhaps the most compelling to me is that he was writing out the 10 commandments. This seems plausible because John keeps telling the story of Jesus by using symbols that show that he was God himself. It’s not a stretch to see similarities with Exodus 31:18 which speaks of God writing the ten commandments on stone tablets with his finger. 

But, to be honest, I’m not sure it really matters what he wrote. He could have been doodling. I suspect if it was important to the meaning of the story, then we would have been given more. 

He bends down and writes in the dirt. The pharisees keep talking and Jesus keeps writing in the dirt. He looks up and invites the sinless spectators to take the first shot at fulfilling the ancient laws regarding stoning adulterers. The Jesus gets back in the dirt. To summarize … draw in the dirt, expose the hypocrisy, and get back to the dirt. 

The trap fails. The accusers leave. And Jesus says words of profound compassion, “Is there no one to commend you?”

The whole moment was designed by the accusers for the purpose of shame. Jesus flips it and repurposes the whole thing to highlight his profound love. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Love wins. 

This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would take shame through the dirt. “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” 

Australian theologian John Painter makes this observation:

‘The pronouncement of forgiveness is stated first and is not made conditional on the turn from sin. Rather, the turning from sin seems to flow from the experience of forgiveness.’ 

Practice

  • Take the dirt that you’ve set aside for this devotional (see instructions at thevineyard.church/lent). Take some of the dirt and hold it in your hands. 
  • Imagine if your greatest sins, your most colossal failures, where dragged out for the whole world to see. What would that feel like? Our accuser wants nothing more than for the stones to start hitting us, reinforcing our shame and inflicting punishment on us.
  • Now look at the dirt and imagine Jesus running his fingers through it, dust trailing behind. He looks up at you and asks, “Where are your accusers?” You realize that it’s just you, the dirt, your dirt, and Jesus … and no condemnation … no shame.
  • It’s a new beginning. Out of the dirt comes new life. “Go and sin no more.” Love has won.

Prayer

Jesus, I am in awe of your great love. 

I come with my shame. 

I come with my failures. 

I hear your words pointing out that there is no condemnation. 

Help me to live in the reality of your forgiveness. 

I confess my need for you. 

I receive now your love. 

As I learn to receive that love, help me to walk in freedom from the sin that so easily entangles me and help me run with endurance.

Amen.


[1] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Jn 8.

Reagan Waggoner - February 21, 2021

Jesus and Dirt

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