There are several instances in the Bible where the finger or hand of God writes a message of great significance. One is when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, one is when a hand wrote a message on the palace wall in Daniel and the third is when Jesus wrote on the ground. In each situation, the words and meaning carried great significance.
What makes the story in John 8 unique is that we never learn what Jesus was writing when he stooped down to write on the ground with his finger. We know the context, where Jesus confronts religious leaders who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery, as the Law required. Some scholars have suggested that Jesus was writing the various secret sins of the men gathered around the sinful woman as a way of pointing out that they were acting hypocritically. Regardless, Jesus uttered the life giving words to this woman - “Then neither do I condemn you…”
How could Jesus offer life to her when she clearly violated Jewish law? Did he know something about her heart, perhaps her repentant spirit, that allowed him to offer freedom from the consequences of her actions? Had he interacted with her on some other occasion which would have given him some more context that John records?
We don't have answers to any of these questions so we are left with a mystery. One potential solution lies in Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5:17 - “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Could it be that Jesus was foreshadowing his work on the cross, where forgiveness would be offered for all sins when true repentance was evident? We know from the rest of the story that the Pharisees were not really interested in justice as John tells us that the religious leaders were keen to trap Jesus. Regardless of what they were expecting from him, Jesus turned their question into an opportunity to bring mercy to the woman in question.
Here’s what we know. The main character was caught in an obvious sin yet Jesus would not join her accusers in condemning her. He still appeared to hold her accountable as his last words were an admonishment to not continue in what may have been a pattern of sin.
What does that mean for us today? God knows we will sin but offers forgiveness through his Son. His desire is that we not sin but he is not a harsh legalistic deity longing to exact violent punishments. What a liberating thought!
God, fill me with a desire to live a life that pleases you in all I do. I know I will continue to sin but my heart yearns to honor you with my whole being. Thank you for the forgiveness you offer.
Throughout This Day: Think about how you treat people today. Are you more like the self-righteous religious leaders in the story or the repentant woman who clearly recognized her need for a savior? Treat others the way you would have wanted Jesus to treat you.
Photo Credit: CDC on Unsplash