Years ago, when our son was learning to write his name, we noticed a few things; we will always write what is on our hearts or minds at the time, and we will usually pen what is most important to us. Our son would sit his little self in the sand and write his name perfectly mirrored. It was during these early days of formability that we began to discover his learning difficulties that would later be diagnosed as dyslexia. The focus, however, was not that he wrote differently, it was that he put into the sand that day with his finger what was on his heart.
We write notes to remind us of what was on our hearts at the time. We write letters to friends and loved ones based upon what we are thinking at the time. We spend more time texting information today than we do in actual conversation. However, if we strip all of the technology and 21st century comforts away, plus remove a couple of thousand years, we find Jesus writing on the only thing available to him at the time - and that is the sand.
We can find Jesus on bended knee in the book of John chapter 8. A plan of entrapment has been devised by the Pharisees to ultimately back Jesus into a corner giving him no way of escape. Jesus began teaching, and, as always, a large crowd assembled around him. Taking advantage of this large public gathering, the Pharisees interrupted his teaching by bringing a woman caught in adultery, and they thrust her into center ring where she was now the primary focus. All eyes and attention were now on this woman and her accusers. They knew it would not take much to insight mob-rule, and this lady’s embarrassment and death was a risk they were willing to take. By being “caught” in the act of adultery meant that she very likely was without clothing or scantily dressed at best. These men wanted to trap Jesus.
If Jesus said the woman should not be stoned, they would accuse him of violating Mosaic Law. If He urged them to execute her, they would report Him to the Romans, who did not permit the Jews to carry out their own executions. Did the Pharisees and any of us ever stop to question that if she had been caught in “the act” then “the act” always requires two people. Why is it that the woman is publicly shamed and thrust into judgement but not the man she was with? Adultery is a private sin committed behind closed doors and executed in secret. It was very difficult and some say impossible to carry out such a sentencing because of the difficulty of proving “the act.”
So here’s the scene, the accusers furious and angry with death and fire in their hearts on one side. A nude lady publicly shamed, ready for sacrifice on the other side, and Jesus in the middle writing in the sand. The Pharisees wanted a black and white answer for what they thought was a slam-dunk black and white issue. They, however, underestimated that Jesus would confound them in the gray area with his finger, not in their faces but in the sand. He simply bent down to the accused lady’s level and wrote in the sand. Still and quiet calm filled the arena as he wrote. He then raised himself from her position to theirs. He transitioned from the accused’s eye level to eye level with the mob. This is where the great mystery exist. We know what he said, but we don’t know what he wrote, but through his words he simply called those innocent of sin to cast the first stone. He bent back down and resumed his ledger in sand. A strange thing happened, everyone holding stones with the taste of blood on their lips just kind of left the scene.
Jesus was at the temple that day to teach and impart the word to the people. This was an example of church, whether it be on the steps at the temple 2,000 ago or in our heated and cooled sanctuaries of 2021. Jesus makes church about his presence; people seem to want to make it about theirs. We would rather not have our agendas interrupted by someone in great distress and need. We can’t imagine the doors thrown open and a woman straight from her adulteress act thrown into the front of our church services with nothing to cover her but the sheet from someone else’s bed. How many would accuse and condemn her? Which of us would hold the symbolic stones? Would some be in a state of shock. How many would see a black and white issue and make a decision in the black and white concerning the lady, and which one of us would remove their garment and cover her shame for her? Who of us is willing to see the gray area as an opportunity for change? I think if we stare at the ground long enough we will see something in the sand written about ourselves. The question is, will we like what we see?
So what exactly did Jesus write in the sand that day? Whatever it was had the power to change the lives of everyone in the crowd. I think it’s not so much what he wrote as what he is still writing. I think his sand-calligraphy, (yes I made that word up) is saying “Church, I’m calling you out. It’s not your church, it’s mine. Start acting more like me. Start focusing less on the worshipper and more on the object of the worship.”
Some churches are large, some small, and others in between, but everyone has within its walls, crowds, teachers, Pharisees, adulterers, and more. The harder we look down at the sand, I think the clearer we can see upwards and the easier it will be to lay down stones. Jesus never condoned the woman’s sin. He saved her life and charged her not to let her salvation go to waste by committing future sins. In her sin she lived a life of shame and guilt, now with one swipe in the sand she was given hope. I challenge you to let Jesus stoop to your level. Let him look you in the eye and write in the sand at your feet. You won’t regret it.
Come see us this Sunday at Christpoint Church on the square in Sparta. We’re real people, living real lives, serving a real God. Welcome home.