Year B Advent 2 WEDNESDAY, 9 December 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Time to Scribble”
Collect: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he 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."
We have no evidence of Jesus ever writing anything, except in today’s story. And here he wrote in the dirt. Like a Japanese priest raking the sand in a Zen garden. Ephemeral. Easily ignored and blotted out. But here is the one, and only, occasion mentioned in the Gospels of Jesus’ writing. But write he does. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, or better yet, sitting on Jesus’ shoulder seeing what he did in the dirt.
I have heard all kinds of speculation. Maybe he wrote down the laws of Moses showing them he knew them as well if not better than they did.
Or maybe he listed the laws that they had broken themselves, or worse yet, the sins they had committed, one by one, accuser by accuser.
In ambiguous stories like this one, the preacher/interpreter often projects what they would do or what they would love to do in Jesus’ shoes. In my mind, I think Jesus doodled. I think he scribbled. The word here katagraphen means merely “wrote.” Same root, -graph that we still use today in autograph, telegraph, phonograph, etc. But I think Jesus doodled.
The accusers were in their rights. No one argued the woman’s guilt. It takes three witnesses by Mosaic law to accuse someone of this crime, and the woman shamed beyond salvation was lying naked in the dirt, the same dirt Jesus wrote on, or scribbled in.
I think Jesus scribbled whatever he scribbled as to diffuse the situation. People came in ready to stone someone, him or her. They wanted something they could accuse Jesus of, and denying or flaunting the Law of Moses would certainly be something to hang him with. And yet, here he is, bending down and scribbling.
Wow! Think of how that would have burnt the biscuits of those who were out for blood. What if every single one of us, especially when ours or someone else’s blood is boiling, took the time to scribble? To deflect, to divert attention, to calm down. What if each of us took a moment to envision Grace and how to be Grace-filled in this escalating situation? My, what a different world we would have. I think that is what Jesus did.
And in that moment, while the drive to kill was slowed down Jesus could deliver one of the most poignant statements he would make, for his day, or for ours. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It is not our place to condemn. Anyone. Think about it, the only people Jesus condemns in the Gospels are the “church-y” people, the too-religious-for their-own-good types. I think of so many brothers and sisters who say they follow the same Jesus I do who are so ready to condemn. In fact, poll most people who are not part of the church and one of the adjectives most used to describe us is “judgmental.”
I am sure that breaks Jesus heart. I have even heard it rationalized, but after everyone else leaves what does Jesus say to the woman? Listen closely to this interchange.
“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.”
And here is Jesus. This one who was without sin, the one who could have thrown that first stone, the one who was righteous and knew the rules, the one who they tried to condemn by his condemnation or lack thereof, is the only one left standing. And even here he presents Grace.
So often I have heard it described as you got your one chance, do not be bad again. But that is not Grace, that is mercy. Maybe. What I hear Jesus saying is this, “Friend, I love you. I care whether you are stoned or not. I care if you are condemned. For both our sakes, please do not be caught doing this again. I will not be here next time.” That is Grace. Undeserved. Unexpected. Amazing. That is Grace.
What if we started treating everyone. The unwed mother. The woman who had an abortion. The undocumented person striving for a better life for themselves and their kids. Our role is NEVER TO JUDGE. Our role is to be AGENTS of GRACE. Our role is to be LIGHT to the WORLD, SALT of the EARTH. Jesus did not come to make more Pharisees, there of plenty of those already using their understanding of religion as a litmus test, a way to say who is in and who is out. Jesus, in this story, models that all are in, all are welcome, all are God’s beloved. Amen