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The Significance of the Scrawl

Meditating on the story of the adulterous woman caught and corralled by a religious stone-throwing community, I puzzled over why the Gospel writer captured the detail, “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger” (John 8:6). Initially, I surmised that it was just one of those mindless actions that had no bearing on the story. Obviously, we will never know what he wrote.

Yet perhaps the content of his scratch misses the point. Maybe, the Gospel witness notes the observation because of its visual meaning. Just like earlier in John 4, where the water well seems to depict the deep needs of the Samaritan woman, so here, too, Jesus’s scribbling means something. These kinds of details in Scripture are never haphazard. It’s not included to show that Jesus was a doodler.

I didn’t see it at first. But one day it dawned rather excitedly! Could it be that his “etching” demonstrated the permanence of his spoken words? Think about it. Anything that finds print has lasting quality. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” We know that God chose to give us his written Word as the permanent record of truth. So, in this case, Jesus’s finger scrawl adds a symbolic visual punch for two of the most dynamic sentences of the entire Bible. Each phrase reflects permanency.

First, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). As if reinforcing, the Gospel author draws attention to the non-verbal cue a second time, “Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:8). Interpretively, we could synthesize it: There will never be a time, this side of heaven, when you or I will be totally without sin. Wow! That’s a humility leveler. True to the text, when the stoneholders heard his words, it was so penetrating that it leveled their gripe and loosened their grips. As to permanency, it insulated her from them, not just that day, but forever.

The next sentence also had permanence. Confirming that none had remained to condemn her, Jesus says, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10). Here, he conveys final justification and her new permanent projection. It is the Gospel’s equivalent to Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Is there a more certain verse on our eternal standing? Back to the text, hearing his words, this vulnerably exposed woman walked away covered in divine favor. It would protect her from sin’s shame and penalty, not just that day, but forever!

I sometimes wonder what kind of church we could be if we appropriated these two juxtaposed truths. First, as sinners, we are not in the place to throw stones at anyone. Second, Christ’s favor covers the depths of our dark multi-dimensional sin. Because of that very personal truth, we have every reason to carry forward the message of his stone dropping grace. Let me leave you with this thought. No one, in all the world, has a message of such potent permanent etching—as you!