Thursday, June 09, 2005

Scribbling in the Dirt

One of my favourite sites for meditation, continuity and connectedness is the Northumbrian Community. (Click on blog title for link.) There I was reminded once more of this story from John 8.

v. 3ff. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Love it. The drama. The details. The denouement.

I love the way the crowd creeps away...the older ones first. What an interesting fact! It gives this account such a ring of authenticity. Perhaps the elders had a sharper remembrance of their sin. Perhaps, to give them credit, they acted responsibly in leadership with their tacit confession.

And of course, that enigmatic writing on the ground. There's been much speculation around what Jesus may have written. I dare to suggest...NOTHING AT ALL. He was scribbling, if you will. Making bubble letters of "The Law. The Law. The Law." Gaining time. Time to think of a just answer to the trick question. The religious leaders counted on a knee jerk response. But Jesus wasn't much given to impulse. He doodled and dawdled. The doodling provided distraction. It diverted the attention of the hostile crowd from the imperiled woman towards himself. Which is precisely what he does with all our sin. "Don't look at the sin," he was saying symbolically. "Look at me." And in that climate of acute shame, his lowered eyes and thoughtful mood, detoxified the intensely shaming focus on the woman. As it does for us all.

And so he mesmerized the crowd. Trick for trick. His doodling had a hypnotic effect and his answer, when it came, paralleled his actions in paradoxical complexity. "Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone." And he let the people slip away as he lowered his eyes, and scratched in the dirt. He would not shame even the judgmental and the overscrupulous with his intensely truthful eyes.

I like to think Jesus tact, his averted gaze, calmed the woman, fascinated her. This moment was the beginning of her healing, providing her with respite before certain doom.

Jesus was never contaminated by sin or dirt. Healing a blind man with spittle mud. Washing his disciples dirty feet. He was earthy. He valued the essence of this basic life element. Dirt. Perhaps his actions signalled symbolically the mortality of us all. We come from dust and to dust we will return. Who is without sin?

There is something childlike in this picture. Something pure. Playful, even, were it not a life and death situation. And we could almost believe Jesus discounted or trivialized the sin, if it were not for his challenge to the woman. "Is there no one here to condemn you?" There is an implication in her remaining there alone. She is the one who condemns herself. As we all do. All too frequently. He takes the matter seriously. "Neither do I... Neither do I. Go, leave your life of sin."

I think I'll give myself some time this summer to doodle in the dirt. Fill a sandbox. Make mudpies. Dig deep with my grandchildren. Paddle about with squishy lakesilt between my toes. I shall think of the freedom of living without condemnation. I shall celebrate healing and forgiveness and acceptance and love. I shall distract myself from my own legalism, from obsessive guilt, from judgment of self and other.

I will take a dust bath of grace. And give myself time to think through the tricky questions, and revel in paradox. There is no condemnation.


annie said...

Wow, Connie. Powerful words, and a timely reminder for me personally.
And what an interesting perspective to think of Jesus doodling in the dirt as he waited, not really writing anything. I like that.

steph said...

Connie I love the thought that Jesus detoxified the place of shame! Oh indeed it is a toxic place. And to think of Jesus doodling in the dirt - sometimes a sign of boredom. He must have thought their comments a waste of his time. Interesting indeed.

Connie said...

Yes, Steph, I agree that perhaps Jesus was thinking, "Oh, not again!!! Yawn. Not this!" And then again, he may have been so angry that he didn't dare say a word, or look up until he doodled himself into a degree of self-composure.

anj said...

"Don't look at the sin," he was saying symbolically. "Look at me." -- Oh I love this, love it, love it, love it.

sarah said...

This is the best interpretation, explanation, suggestion of the meaning in this story that I have ever heard. "nobody really knows"....."it doesn't really matter" are the things I've always heard. Yes it does matter and you've shown why. Jesus, the detoxifier of shame. I'm going to read that story again today. Thank you teacher Connie. You rock.

Kim said...

This is just excellent. Great writing, great prespective -- love this post.