written in the sand

written in the sand March 11, 2010

I’m still on grace today. When Jesus intervened and prevented the angry mob from stoning the adulterous mary m, something in the universe shifted. Fear and judgement no longer won by default. Another voice hung in the air that day. We don’t know what it said, but we know it as a voice of mercy that meant to change us forever.

What did Jesus write in the sand? As the temple officials accused him of not knowing the law, he knelt down and calmly traced some words in the earth.  They kept hammering him, and he kept writing. We don’t know what he wrote, but it stilled the storm of mob mentality. They went in peace. MM remained in her place, awaiting the judgement that would surely come from her savior, but never did. Instead of further binding her in sin, he sent her away, redeemed by embodied grace.

What did he write in the sand? Many scholars figure he wrote the sins of each gathered “judge,” reminding them that their own transgression left them in no position to judge another. I reckon that he might also have written the law of Moses, to show them that he did in fact know the law, but held the power to overwrite it. He wrote after that a new law, a law of love and mercy and forgiveness, to show that with his presence among us, God reordered the Holy to human connection.

Feminist theologians suggest he wrote this: “where is the man?”  And where was the man, indeed. For how long has the church delighted in excusing the powerful and whole, while judging and exiling those already broken, already rejected, already on the outside of mercy? The word in the sand was grace. It was hope. It was forgiveness. And it was for everyone.

What else might Jesus have written that day? What good news of God’s love held such power as to stave off the force of righteous indignation?  Has anyone ever written that word in the sand for you? Would you, in turn, write it for someone else?

I’d like to think that if we knew exactly what those words said, the world and the church would be completely different places today. If we could point to scripture and say, “look, here. This word of grace releases us from sin, while taking away all our powers of judgement. These words leave that power to God alone, and call us only to love. Here is the story of mercy made flesh among us, and the call to live in a community that keeps such mercy alive. Here is all that God wants us to be, all that it takes to overpower the darkness. ”

I’d like to think that we’d have those words written as a welcome sign over the doors of our sanctuary, embracing the single parent, the divorce-torn family, the gay couple and their child, the illegal immigrant, the criminal, the interracial couple, the addict, the dealer, the corporate banker who’s still driving a jag, the business owner who pays his immigrant employees $2 an hour, the prostitute and the adulterer.

As it is, we don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand, but we do know what he said plenty of other times. We know that on every other day of his short life, he reminded us that the love of God was for everyone now, and not even the most righteous among us could decide who was worthy of it and who was not. As it is, we have many of his words to remind us of that. But we also have a big handful of rocks, and lots of easy targets. In this Lenten season, which weighs more heavily on our hearts? In our hands?

As it is, the words of JEsus remain still written in sand, in this springtime desert. They say, “I am new life. I am about to do a new thing.” Have you not perceived it?

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  • Jim Gawne

    These men had come to put Jesus in a “no-win” situation. Either he supported the law of Moses and went with stoning the woman, which would break the Roman law against killing, or he supported the Roman law against killing the woman and broke the Mosaic law against adultery. In Matthew 22 and Mark 12, when Jesus is asked “Which is the greatest commandment?” He replied with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40) In my opinion, Jesus was probably writing something very similar to this. How could these leaders of the Jewish society possibly condemn this woman without condemning themselves. So they just slowly walked away, unwilling to judge themselves by the same standard that they were using to judge her.