Thought for the Day by Bob Shaw (St Michael’s)
Readings: John 7:53 – 8:12
Today’s NT reading from St John’s gospel gives us a dramatic scene. Jesus was teaching in the Temple when some Scribes and Pharisees came barging in, dragging a woman with them. They claimed she was caught committing adultery (notice that her partner in the act isn’t mentioned; but it takes 2 to do it!). They place the condemned woman in front of Jesus to test him by asking whether he agrees that she ought to be stoned to death in accordance with the Law of Moses. They said this to test and discredit him, knowing that Jesus preached a lot about forgiveness as well as engaging with people who were considered sinners. How then could he be the Messiah? The reply from Jesus was equally dramatic. He bent down and started writing on the ground. Nowhere else in the gospels is there any evidence of Jesus writing anything down, and here we aren’t even told what he wrote! The accusers persisted with their question to which Jesus replied
’Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to cast a stone at her’.
Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground. In response the accusers started to leave one by one, beginning with the eldest. Apparently, by tradition, it was the eldest who always threw the first stone. The implication is that none of them could claim any innocence and so the woman was left alone with Jesus who refused to condemn her but let her leave , encouraging her to resist further temptation.
We are left wondering what it was that Jesus wrote on the ground. What do you think it was? The best I can think of is that Jesus was writing the words of the ‘Our Father’ which focuses on our need for the forgiveness of all our sins. There is a sense in which the whole gospel is contained within the Lord’s Prayer which was first written down in the gospels in Greek. The Greek word for ‘to forgive’ also means ‘to liberate’. We certainly need to be liberated today from the global pandemic in which we have been imprisoned for over a year and which continues to threaten our lives. Perhaps this story can also come to us afresh to free us from hypocrisy and prejudice and open our hearts to the healing and forgiving love of Jesus. The truth is that we are all sinners as evidenced by our lack of responsible collective stewardship for the planet Earth. The Lord’s Prayer empowers us to face each day, whatever may happen, in the sure knowledge that God will be with us to support us as we seek to address the threat of climate change and build God’s Kingdom here on planet earth. To fulfil our vocation we need to offer and receive forgiveness and so be delivered from evil. I can therefore think of no more appropriate words for us also to write down, remember, and put into practice at this time of unprecedented human drama.