Summary: It’s not what He wrote that matters, but the fact that He wrote.
“And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ And they were saying this testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she had been, in the midst.”
Some of the most engaging and often entertaining conversations that people have, or that become topics of articles and books, and sometimes even movies, center around the unanswered questions of history.
There is just something about the mystery of the unanswered question that people can not let go.
On November 24, 1971, Dan Cooper boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Portland to Seattle, demanded and received a $200,000 ransom, and on the return flight he parachuted into the forest of southwest Washington state, and has never been seen again. At least, not in a way that has come to the public’s attention.
The disappearance of "D.B." Cooper is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, and the fact of his total disappearance so intrigues people, a movie was made about D.B. in 1981.
And there are other questions that will never be answered, but once in a while we hear them anyway. Begin a conversation about the famous painting of the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, and invariably, the topic will turn to ‘is she smiling, or not?’ Nat King Cole sang about it in a song of the same title; “Mona Lisa”.
What was Napoleon holding inside his vest? Or was he just scratching an itch? Or hiding an ugly wart from the painter’s eye? Probably just thought the stance looked noble and dignified. We’ll never know for certain, why he posed with his hand inside his vest. But it’s fun to joke about and speculate about I suppose, and offers ready material for comedians when their repertoire is running dry.
Well, you get the point, I’m sure, so I won’t belabor it. But here in this account from John’s gospel, a very popular and frequently preached passage illuminating the wonderful grace of God and the divine wisdom of His Son Jesus, we find another of those unanswerable questions.
Indeed, whenever the story is told, someone will ask, whether it be vocalized or just in their own mind as they listen to the account, ‘what was Jesus writing on the ground?’
It is the only mention in the gospels of Jesus writing anything, and it wasn’t on parchment, so we needn’t look for it in archeological digs. It wasn’t carved into stone or wood, so it won’t be found stashed away in catacombs under the Dome of the Rock or the Vatican in Rome.
The one time we know of Jesus writing, He did it with His finger, in the dust at his feet. It probably didn’t even make it through the day, before being scuffed out, either by Jesus Himself, or the passersby as they went to and from the temple in this very busy city of the Jews.
So we’re left to either ignore it, or speculate about it, and speculate we do. Because we love a mystery, and we can’t stand unanswered questions.
But that’s ok. Y’know why? Because I don’t think the Holy Spirit would have inspired John to include it in this account unless it meant something for us.
And since we cannot know what He wrote, I am led to believe that the significance is in the fact that He wrote, and perhaps of greater significance for us today, believer, is the very fact that we don’t know what He wrote.
Let’s just settle into this passage and ask the Lord to give us some fresh insights from it today that will bless us, encourage us, and maybe even challenge us in our relationship with Him and with our fellows.
THE SETTING OF THE TELLING
Now there are a couple of things I want to address and get out of our way before we really get started, just so we’re all on the same ‘page’, so to speak.
Among textual scholars there is some debate as to whether this account even belongs in scripture. John 7:53 through 8:11 is not found in the oldest manuscripts, and in addition, the style of writing in this passage differs in many respects from that of John throughout the rest of the gospel.