Sometimes when we read Bible stories, we have questions that aren’t directly answered by the text. The answers may not be there, but pondering the questions can be important. One of the things that I have often wondered is what it was that Jesus was drawing in the ground in John 8:6, 8. This is the story of the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus says that the one without sin should be the first to throw a stone at her.
I felt the Holy Spirit giving me an interesting clue as to what was being written through an illustrated version of John’s gospel that I have. In the picture for Jesus drawing on the ground, he is sitting on a bench with people gathered around him. Off to the side is the scene with the woman and the interrogators. I realised the context is that Jesus has gone to the temple at dawn with the intent of teaching those who had come to learn (John 8:2).
The picture of Jesus sitting on a bench drawing with people around him brought back to my mind memories from when I was 17-18 years old and I was studying an HND in maths at Fife College. In my maths class was a very tall lad (6’6”!). My tall friend got on the same bus as me, but several stops before me. Because of his height, he always sat on the back seat where there was the most leg space; there I would join him. My friend was brilliant at maths! When I was struggling with grasping particular concepts in maths, he would write out equations for me, and show me the working out, by drawing on the steamed-up windows at the back of the bus.
Suddenly, it seemed to me as though Jesus was using the ground in a similar way to how my friend used the back window of the bus. Jesus, I felt, was using the ground as a teaching tool. Images and diagrams can make learning so much easier than when it is purely verbal, and Jesus would be helping the visual learners to grasp his teaching. In other words, when Jesus is writing on the ground, he is ignoring the scene in front of him, and focussing on what he came to do: teach those who wanted to learn.
Those making the scene with the woman caught in adultery are trying to get Jesus’ full attention and give those who came to learn a bad impression of Jesus. Jesus shows an element of disinterest in the scene by giving it only a fraction of his attention and then returning to what he is doing. He keeps ignoring their questions and demands about the woman. Then, eventually, we can imagine him looking up, and with a disinterested shrug saying, ‘well, whoever out of you has never done anything wrong, then that one can throw the first stone.’ Then turning back again to those who came to learn.
I believe we can learn from this that there are times when it is best not to get caught up in fights and debates on rights and wrongs. Sometimes we just need to give our attention to the people who are ready to listen and learn about Jesus, like those who came to the temple that morning to learn.
Dunfermline West Baptist Church
Chalmers Street, Dunfermline