5th Sunday of Lent – April 7, 2019
What in the world did Jesus write on the ground? That is a question people have been asking for centuries. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty powerful!
Consider how the scene begins. A woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. According to the law, Moses commanded that such a person be sentenced to death by stoning. Not a single person present, including the accused woman, suggested that she was innocent. Not even Jesus denied her guilt. A mob of people, experts on Mosaic Law, presented an ironclad case against a guilty woman who was minutes away from her imminent death.
They then ask Jesus to simply acknowledge that this guilty person should be put to death according to their law. They just want Him to say, “Yup, you got her. Guilty as charged… go get the stones.” But instead, Jesus bends down to write something on the ground, not once, but twice.
Now consider how the scene ends after this mysterious inscription is written on the ground. No more mob. No one pointing fingers. No more questions. No stones in sight. Just Jesus and the accused woman all alone.
One could argue that this passage from John gives us a tremendous amount of hope. When one understands what really happened here, it is a powerful example of God’s grace and mercy. The same grace and mercy that He extends to all of us even to this very day.
To understand this better, one must recall the last time God wrote something down for His people. Anyone want to take a guess? On Mount Sinai God engraved the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. These were His laws for the people to obey. God’s people were very lost and needed some parental guidance. So God gave Moses strict rules to implement among His people.
Contrast that with today’s Gospel from John. Rather than writing on stone tablets, Jesus writes in the dirt. Stone tablets are hard and obviously hard to change once engraved. Writing on the dirt can easily be erased with the swipe of a hand to give a clean slate… a fresh start.
So again, recall the scene from the Gospel. A group of people, probably with stones in hand, brought a guilty person to the temple area for a quick “judge, jury and executioner” chat with Jesus. His response… was to write something down in the dirt and say, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus then bends down for a second time to write in the dirt again. Everyone present read what Jesus wrote in the dirt… and slowly walked away… one by one.
WHAT DID HE WRITE???? Come on!!! That’s the juiciest piece of information and it’s nowhere to be found anywhere in the bible!!!
Did he write down a list of everyone’s sins? Did he perhaps write down the name of other adulterers present who were better at hiding their sin and haven’t been caught yet? Did he write, “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do not judge and you will not be judged”… It’s nowhere to be found!
And you know what? It doesn’t matter.
Are you are ready for the punch-in-the-gut moment of today’s Gospel? Here it is… the woman caught in adultery… is US. Yes, Jesus sees a guilty woman standing before Him. But at the same time He sees all of God’s people of the past, present and future that are not always faithful to Him. And His heart is moved with compassion. These are precisely the people that Jesus came to save. These are the people that He will sacrifice Himself on the cross for on Good Friday… to release us from our sins.
Jesus doesn’t look at her, or us, and condemn us for our actions. Instead, He is offering us His grace and much needed mercy. He is reminding us that only He can forgive our sins… only He can wipe away the dirt on the ground. Only He can give us a fresh start.
Now… I wouldn’t be doing my job up here if I skipped over the last sentence from this passage. Yes, God’s love and mercy can surpass all things. Yes, God is full of compassion. But pay close attention to what he tells the woman after he pardons her.
Jesus says, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Did you catch that? Do not sin any more.
Jesus is asking us to do our part. To put in some effort. There is no doubt that God’s grace and mercy gives us new life. However, it should also stir something inside of us that desires change. Positive change. Change toward living a good and holy life. A desire to avoid sin if at all possible. But in those moments when we fail, we need to repent and rely on God’s grace and mercy to start over. To wipe away the dirt.
So no matter what we have done in the past, God is cheering for us. He’s not condemning us. He actually sees more potential in us than we see in ourselves.
We need to allow His love and mercy to fully engulf us. Allowing His grace to give us the strength to overcome sin and to go and sin no more.
Our future is not set in stone. And the sins of our past do not dictate our future.
With God’s help, we can be the positive change for a brighter future. A future that eventually ends with us face to face with God in heaven.