In the beginning

Column: Deciphering ancient doodles in the dust

in the beginning

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Bored students will sometimes doodle instead of taking notes during a lecture. Scribbling on paper can relieve tension, can allow the mind to wander. It can also reveal the hidden thoughts of the writer, if you are able to decipher the message.

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 8:1-11, Jesus bends down and writes on the ground with his finger, when his opponents bring in a woman caught in adultery before him, in order to test him.

This is the only place in any of the four Gospels where Jesus writes anything. At the same time, the Gospel does not indicate what Jesus wrote. It is very intriguing.

There are several possibilities. One suggests that Jesus was not writing any intelligible words, that he was doodling, to stall for time, to make the woman’s accusers wait for an answer, perhaps to think of the response he would make.

Another possibility maintains that Jesus was writing the private sins of her accusers, so that they would read it, recognize their own guilt and back off. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Still a third possibility has Jesus alluding to a Scripture passage: “Those who turn away from you (God) will be written in the dust” (Jer 17:13).

The bystanders would see Jesus writing in the dust and realize that this gesture of Jesus was implicating the woman’s accusers. Jesus would not have to write any actual words to make that point.

In any case, we cannot determine what, if anything, Jesus wrote. It is ambiguous. Nonetheless, we can assume that whatever Jesus was writing affirmed the message that he spoke. That was a message of mercy.

Jesus proclaimed that we all are in need of God’s mercy. He challenged the woman’s accusers: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus proclaimed that he came, not to judge, but to bring mercy. He told the woman: “Neither do I condemn you.”

During this Year of Mercy, Jesus’ message of mercy holds special significance for us. He calls us to accept God’s mercy, which we all need. In turn, he calls us to share that mercy with others around us, to forgive and not condemn.

Jesus’ opponents brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus in order to test him, to see how he would handle the situation. We also are being tested.

How will we handle the situation? Will we also offer mercy?

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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