The Gospel of John is receiving some attention right now. This time chapter 8. The bit scholars have italicised as probably an add-on. Yet good enough to leave in. Verses 1-11. The lady caught in the act brought to Jesus.
A lot of words have been written about this passage. And I have been drawn to some wonderful insights. One I had not seen before struck me as worth presenting here. Inasmuch as it drew me to the power, the knowledge, the style and the supreme challenge Jesus presented to the establishment. To the “but they said”
Without one harsh word. Simply through his knowledge of their territory, their expertise, their strength – he also exposed their absolute hypocrisy – and in a way that forced them to confront their hypocrisy. Right there right then. That is powerful. That is masterful. That is worthy of our understanding.
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. 6.5-8
The following is an extract from a fuller commentary:
“This act of writing on the ground is itself very significant. Kenneth E. Bailey has pointed out (in unpublished form) that it was unlawful to write even two letters on the sabbath but that writing with dust was permissible (m. shabbat 7:2; 12:5). If this were the eighth day of the feast, which was to be kept as a day of rest, then Jesus’ writing on the ground would show that he knows well not only the law but also the oral interpretations.”
Now that is neat. That has style. That is masterful. And is that it? Are you being serious …
Furthermore, his writing echoes an Old Testament passage, thereby turning it into a symbolic action (Jeremias 1972:228): “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water” (Jer 17:13). Here “written in the dust” probably means the opposite of being written in the book of life (Ex 32:32; Dan 12:1); those who have turned away are consigned to death because they have rejected the one who is the source of the water of life.
This is high stakes indeed. What depth. What finesse. What absolute power. And what is now going through the minds of the accusers …
Thus it appears that Jesus is associating his opponents with those whom God condemns for forsaking himself and whom he consigns to death. The judgment that they suggest Jesus execute on this adulterous woman is in fact the judgment that he visits upon them for their rejection of him—the one who has offered them God’s living water (7:38-39). In rejecting Jesus, they are forsaking God, and thereby committing a most shameful act. Adultery is shameful, certainly, but they themselves are acting in a shameful way worthy of death.
The death they had invited Jesus to sanction. When they dragged this poor terrified humiliated convenient pawn (who just happened to be another human being who might just have been a victim rather than transgressor), the absolute cert of a win-win for them and a lose-lose for Jesus was now reversed.
‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’
And by not casting a stone? They were seen by everyone there as the sinners.
All of this is conveyed simply by Jesus’ action of writing on the ground, which alludes to this passage from Jeremiah. This action could have this meaning whatever it was he wrote.”
But they said …
“They” don’t do humiliating themselves. “They” do the humiliating. They want to be the last word. They tell. They expect. They need.
Jesus doesn’t need. Jesus doesn’t expect. Jesus has no need of the last word. And Jesus does not do humiliation. He does the absolute awesome power, the absolute awesome love, the absolute awesome humanity.
He is the source. Always.
The IVP New Testament Commentary Series » John » The Conflict Intensifies at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-8:59) » Jesus Forgives a Woman Taken in Adultery (7:53-8:11)