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Daily Devotional • December 30

James Cornwell
Words in the Dust
A Reading from the Gospel of John 7:53-8:11

53 Then each of them went home, 8 1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and, making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 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.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” 

We are not told what Jesus wrote when he bent down to the ground twice. However, there are two other places in the Bible where God wrote with his finger, and these illuminate the character of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who have brought before him this woman taken in adultery.

The first instance was the inscription of the Ten Commandments. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and so, as he judges the situation before him, he adheres strictly to the law of Moses. With respect to adultery, the Mosaic law requires that both parties to the adultery be prosecuted together, and that at least two witnesses declare to have personally seen the sin take place. Neither of these requirements is present in this circumstance, and thus it is clear that the scribes and the Pharisees do not intend to see justice done, but instead merely want to trap Jesus.

Jesus then turns the tables on them. Not only does he fail to legitimize this farcical miscarriage of justice, but he rebukes the leaders’ pretentions to authority with a judgment on their own moral rectitude. We see another place where God writes with his finger: the infamous writing on the wall during the feasting of King Belshazzar:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

God overturned the pretentions of the ungodly king Belshazzar, and similarly Christ overturns the pretentions of a hypocritical priestly class. Christ’s writing therefore ought to remind us that his coming both upholds the eternal nature of God’s law, and overturns the earthly powers that seek to abuse it. Our hope then rests only in the promise that his death and resurrection will wipe away the record of our own sins, like unremembered words written in the dust.

James Cornwell lives and works in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Christ Church, Tyler, Texas
The Diocese of Olympia
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