Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 13, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Ps 126 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Do you ever get distracted by a detail in a story? That always happens to me. Someone will be telling me a story, and they will throw in one detail; sometimes it’s barely related to the story, and my mind starts going over and over it. I will have to consciously make an effort to keep listening; otherwise, they will get to the end of the story, and the only thing that I remember is the random detail that they put in.
This always happens to me in this particular gospel. Why was Jesus writing in the dirt? It just doesn’t seem to fit—it seems kind of random. If you read the gospel and leave that detail out, it doesn’t really change anything. I always wonder why Jesus was writing in the dirt; and, obviously, the gospel writer felt that it was important to include that detail, even though he didn’t give us any of the details about it. I wonder—was Jesus stalling—was He not sure what to do? Was He taking time to think things through? I find that highly unlikely, since He was the Son of God, after all!
Apparently, I’m not the only one who asks this question, because I googled it and found all kinds of explanations. One of the theories that I came across intrigued me. One person suggested that perhaps Jesus was writing the sins of the scribes and the Pharisees in the dirt, while they were gloating and looking forward to stopping this radical.
The scribes had set a trap for Jesus. Jesus was going about preaching, and He had a habit of sharing the table with sinners, which appalled the scribes and the Pharisees. They would never do that, because they would then be made unclean, but Jesus did it all the time. Jesus preached a message of mercy. They thought that they had Him now.
They were going to bring this woman in front of Him; and, if He tells us to let her go, then He obviously cannot be a Jewish prophet, because He has no regard for the Law of Moses. On the other hand, if He says to stone her, He will be contradicting His own message. Not only that, but they could then pass Him off to the Romans, because the Romans did not allow the Jews to carry out executions. So, if Jesus was advocating that the scribes start throwing stones at this woman, they could hand Him over to the Romans as a revolutionary.
I like the image of Jesus writing the sins in the dirt, because the scribes were certainly not sin free. Jesus often accused them, throughout the gospels, of neglecting the poor and the sick, of being greedy, and of being hypocritical. If you look at the details of the story, it is obvious that they are not concerned with the Law of Moses, because the law is quite clear. Both the woman, and the man, should be stoned. Where is the man in this scene? They chose to only bring the woman, to try to trap Jesus. Possibly He was writing their sins in the dirt to remind them of all of this, because they were guilty.
We are guilty too. We also fail to follow God’s law. We fail to put God ahead of everything. We find all sorts of things to place before God in our lives—money, our jobs, prestige—the list goes on and on. We also fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. We neglect the poor, we neglect the prisoner, we neglect the immigrant. In fact, not only do we neglect them, we blame them for our problems, and we advocate putting up walls, both figuratively and literally, to separate our brothers and sisters that we really don’t want to be around.
We also have to remember that we can’t work our way to heaven. We can never be good enough to earn our salvation. It’s not about us—it’s about God. It’s about how we accept God. It’s about how we try to live our lives the way He wants us to live. Our God is merciful. He calls us to be like Him. He calls us to forgive.
There is a story about a woman who lived in a village and claimed to be able to talk to Jesus in her dreams. The whole village believed her, because she was a holy woman. The priest decided to test her. He told her that, as a teenager, he did something terrible. He wanted her to ask Jesus what it was, and to report back to him. The next morning, the priest asked the woman if she had talked to Jesus and asked him about the sin. When she replied, she said, “Jesus said that He can’t remember”.
I like to think about Jesus writing in the dirt, after He had finished—all the scribes had left, and it was just the woman and Him standing there. I like to think of Him saying, “I don’t condemn you,” then taking His hand and erasing the sins in the dirt, because that’s what He does—He takes away sins. He took away the sins of the woman—He didn’t condemn her. He took away the sins of the scribes and the Pharisees too. He also does that for me and for you. He says to us, “Go, and sin no more.” He calls us to emulate Him, to be merciful, to forgive and to forget what others have done to us.