As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:13-14
One of the most powerful examples of grace in the Bible is found in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were upset because many of the people that used to look to them for guidance were going to Jesus instead. As the lawyers burdened the people with rules and regulations, Jesus was sharing a message of freedom, love and hope.
The Jewish leaders wanted to discredit Jesus’ ministry and force Him to fall back into the party line. The Bible says that they began looking for someone to condemn and found a man and woman engaged in the act of adultery. There has been debate over the years about the identity of the adulterous woman. Some have suggested that the woman was Mary Magdalene. Others have pointed out the fact that since the man was not brought before Jesus for judgment, the woman might have been a prostitute. Regardless, the religious leaders knew where to look and caught the couple in the act of sin. They dragged the naked woman out of bed and humiliated her by making her stand in the temple courts before Jesus and the group that He was teaching. Think about that… it would be bad enough to be caught in sin by your pastor or priest, but can you imagine being dragged in front of your congregation to be publically exposed by them?
The lawyers wanted to test Jesus and see if He would join them in their public condemnation of the terrified woman. The Bible says that Jesus didn’t say anything. He bent down and began writing on the ground with His finger. He didn’t pick up a rock… He didn’t condemn the woman with His eyes… He just bent down and wrote in the dust. There has been a lot of speculation on what Jesus wrote on the ground. Some have suggested that He wrote out the sins of the accusers, others say that He may have written out the Ten Commandments. Maybe He just doodled in the dirt and prayed. Maybe He searched the Scriptures in His mind and looked at the dust on His finger and reminisced about the day that He had made man.
The whole time that Jesus wrote the religious leaders bombard Him with questions. When Jesus finally spoke He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” and then He bent down and started writing in the dust again. As the lawyers thought about Jesus’ comment, and searched their hearts, they remembered their own sins and dropped their rocks and went home. It’s hard to write in the sand when your hands are full of rocks.
When the accusers had all left, Jesus finally looked at the woman and spoke to her saying, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” When the woman responded that no one was left to condemn her Jesus replied, “Then neither do I condemn you… Go now and leave your life of sin.” In an amazing act of grace Jesus taught the lawyers that compassion is more powerful than condemnation and that sand is more effective than rocks at changing hearts.
Dear Lord forgive us when we pick up rocks instead of picking up people. You are a God of compassion who remembers that we are dust. Help us to boldly proclaim the Good News of your grace and forgiveness so that the world will be transformed and liberated from its bondage to sin and death. May You alone be glorified in and through your people of dust.