March 22, 2021

The Gospel

Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


John 8:1–11 (LectionaryPage.net)

The Offering

From Steve Evans
The Line by Philip Guston shows a large hand reaching down to the earth with two fingers extended on a line.
Philip Giston. The Line, 1978.

The painter Philip Guston once talked about how he could just as easily become a psychologist to explain the psychological process and inner workings of art and painting, but that he didn’t want to understand it like that. There is an assumption here that to probe too analytically into the creative process is to take away the mystery, and therefore the magic. There is also the counter assumption that if a mystery cannot be explained, it is therefore not important, trivial, or irrelevant. Some commentaries pertaining to the story of the woman caught in adultery, brought to Jesus to test him, asking whether she should be stoned or not as pertains to the law of Moses, take very lightly the fact that he did not immediately answer them, but instead stooped down to write with his finger on the ground. The Oxford Study Bible says “What, if anything, Jesus wrote on the ground is unimportant to the story.” However, I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth – and it is truth we are talking about here.

 

Subsequently, in the story, when Jesus does speak, he proposes that whoever among them is without sin may throw the first stone. Inevitably, they all go away without stoning the woman, and for obvious reasons: no one is without sin. It is as if Christ reaching down to write in the dirt is metaphorical for the hand of God which reaches down from heaven to write the law on our own hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15). But we do not know what Jesus is about here, and I, truthfully, do not wish to know. Like Guston, I don’t want to understand it in analytical terms. However, though this act is mysterious and without explanation, the profundity is not lost. In addition, it has been my experience when reading scripture, that if Jesus is doing or saying it, it is important. There is some linkage here between a woman caught in sin and punishable by the law, even unto death, and not being judged for it, that is as mysterious as Jesus’s act of writing in the dirt. Jesus’s seemingly contrary posture to the law, in which it has been said that he has come to fulfil, is bewildering to say the least, as well as paradoxical. Being as it may, the fact of the matter is that this moment, and perhaps Jesus’s whole life and ministry, is paradoxical, but it is true.

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