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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Thursday, February 4

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?”....Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
—John 8:4-6

Scribes and Pharisees, who represented the established religious and ethical experts of their day, bring a woman to Jesus and tell him that she has been caught, apparently literally, in the act of adultery. They remind him that, according to their religious and ethical codes, she should be stoned to death, and they ask him what he has to say on the matter.

The fact that the scribes and Pharisees are testing Jesus, trying to trick him into making a scandalous public blunder, is beside the point. The woman apparently really is guilty, and in that society, one lived, and died, by the rules. No exceptions.

And so, in what has to be one of the most brilliant strategic moves in the New Testament, Jesus says nothing. He waits, and then he either bends down or kneels in the dusty walkway outside the Temple in Jerusalem, and writes with his finger in the dust. 

We are not told what he wrote, or how long he stayed in that position. I like to think of him running his finger through the dust, squiggling and dawdling aimlessly as he collects his thoughts.

I hope to remember this wonderful scene when I am asked tricky questions or even when things are tense and I feel compelled to speak. I hope I will learn from this NOT to speak until I have centered myself, breathed deeply, and pictured Jesus in this inelegant pose, collecting himself and preparing his answer.

For when he does speak, it changes everything. Here is how John describes it: “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. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” (John 8:7–9a)

Save us, dear God, from self-righteousness and judgment and grant us patience and wisdom, especially under pressure! Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2007.