I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of what Jesus wrote in the dirt to so affect the accusers of the adulterous woman.
Stoning remains today as a legal punishment in some Muslim countries even though it’s not mentioned in the Koran. In 2021 in Mali a married couple were stoned to death for extra marital affairs.
Was Jesus writing some juicy shady scandal about each of the Scribes and Pharisees in turn? Or was he writing from the text of the stones given to Moses: “Thou shalt not kill?” Or was there just a powerful pause in the whole condemning and stoning urges that were aroused in the silence of waiting for Jesus to reply?
He’d be trapped no matter what he said. I think that people were transfixed by the falseness and horror of what they were enacting.
In psychotherapy there is a leaving of a silent gap for someone to reflect on a negative emotion like anger, hatred, lust, or jealousy. it’s in that silence that they often see, feel, and own the destructive emotion maybe for the first time. Its right there in that dawning awareness that they are 50% on the way to a better solution/recovery.
The walking away by the Scribes and Pharisees feels to me like that silent realisation of their anger and condemnatory emotions.
In that silence as he doodled in the dust did Jesus engage each accuser eye to eye, man to man, until His very silence and presence emanated the new law – a law of forgiveness, a law of a loving God?
And so, the force of his kindness and compassion first shamed them and then changed their hearts.
Here at Mass this morning, we are invited into the same ritual of bringing our faults and failings before this Christ, reflecting on, and owning our inadequacy, limitation, and weaknesses. Taking them into his non-condemning presence. In the next part of our ritual, the bread and wine, the very dynamic of his silent presence in the Gospel story, is here for us. It is saying to us what was said to the adulterous woman, the very same words:
“‘Neither do I condemn you,’ ‘go away, and do not sin anymore.’”