Praying for perspective: What did Jesus write in the sand?

Was he asking for safety for the woman caught in adultery, whom he was about to forgive, or was he praying for us?

By George Valadie

Like many of you, I’m running out of words. Though I seem to have no shortage of anger. All in all, I’m having real trouble getting over this scandalous mess. And finding it harder still to forgive these publicly declared men of God who it turns out might not have been.

Seriously, I got fired once and didn’t get this angry.

It all came up again at a recent meeting I attended—mostly because I brought it up. I told you I’ve been struggling. Thankfully though, what also came up was the topic of forgiveness and the Lord’s teaching on the topic. I’d like to say that came from me, too, but sadly—no.

We all agreed we should work on giving it a try, though I acknowledge I’ve got quite a ways to go.

Later, on the drive home with time to reflect, I found myself taken back to John’s Gospel in which he relates the story of Christ teaching near the Mount of Olives. He was in the temple one morning; a crowd gathered at his feet to learn.

Then, pushing their way to the front, grabbing all the attention that comes with interruption, the Pharisees dragged out a woman “who had been caught in adultery.”

Yes, I wonder how these men had actually come upon such a discovery and even more curious why the offending male—it does take two— wasn’t part of the accused and indicted. But that #MeToo discussion is for another day.

“We got you now,” you can imagine them thinking, “ … in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

We’re used to reading about these sorts of verbal tricks. There were always folks trying to tie him up with his own words, looking for any reason to pit him against their preferred Mosaic law. Them vs. Him, hoping he’d speak heresy, knowing it would do him in.

Skip to the end of the story. Jesus embarrassed all of them with maybe his snappiest comeback, “Any of you who haven’t messed up yet, go ahead and pick up the first rock.”

Well now, that would have taken a bit of nerve, wouldn’t it? After all, these folks lived in a very small town. Everybody knew everybody. And in such a place, everybody also knows what everybody doesn’t want them to know. There weren’t going to be any rock throwers there that day.

“Ma’am, none of them condemned you and neither will I. Go on—and get your life together.”

But before he got to that verbal lesson of the day, theirs and hers— Scripture says “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.”

Has anyone ever known why? What exactly did he write there? Anyone can guess, anyone can imagine.

Maybe he wrote … “This is gonna be fun.”

I mean you just know he knew they were coming. He knew they’d be trying to make him look bad. And he had to have known exactly how this particular episode would turn out. These guys wanted the spotlight but today would be his turn.

Or maybe, he was inclined to write something like, “Are you kidding me?”

He’d been teaching and preaching for going on three years, and it was obvious some people still didn’t get it. Sadly, maybe they were never going to get it. Neither the Pharisees— nor the woman. Was anyone listening at all?

I could also see him scribbling, “I’ll be back.”

Today—this little word puzzle from these un-learned learned men—this would be a piece of cake. These jokers were never going to be the real challenge. That would come in a few weeks when he returned to this same Mount to be betrayed. That’s when things would get really hard.

Perhaps this sandbox is where we first got introduced to the age-old adage “Patience is a virtue.”

Can’t you imagine these hypocrites had been driving him crazy? Ever since he had begun this journey. Always acting as if they were who they were not. He had to have been fed up. Who wouldn’t have? I imagine even Jesus got worn out at times, didn’t he?

Maybe his sand scratching was never that complicated at all. Not a sentence but just a thought, a word, the obvious word. “Forgiveness.”

Perhaps it was the concept he was trying to teach them and the world, but then again, maybe he was trying to focus on all the forgiving he himself would soon be needing to do. How could he ever empower the apostles to do what he could not?

Sand’s not the best place to write words. So maybe it was just a picture. A crucifix. Three crucifixes. His mom’s face. The face of God.

What if he had just been doodling? The way we all do. Squiggles and boxes, circles and stars. Could he have been creating the proverbial pregnant pause giving everyone there some time to think about their own sins?

Or was it him needing a minute. Seeking the inspiration of the Spirit. Asking for the wisdom of the Father. Praying for the safety of the prostitute he had only just met.

Or maybe, just maybe, he was praying for us.

Dear God—I imagine you’ve seen worse. I imagine it pains you worse. I imagine you keep loving them anyway. Please send me some of that. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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