Rewriting Judgment

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

April 3rd, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Lent - John 8:1-11

Download this simple process to Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method.

There are two places in the Bible where we have accounts of someone writing with a finger. The first one describes God using a finger to inscribe on stone tablets the Ten Commandments. What was written became the covenant law for God’s Chosen People, the Jews. And they remain in effect for all. Some churches like to list them on large signs on church property so they can be read by passers-by. (Perhaps because it was felt that some people needed reminders or maybe had never heard of them.)

But when was the second time? Today’s gospel tells us. Some individuals apparently thought that it was their job to point out the misdeeds of others and render judgment. Here they are identified as scribes and pharisees, groups known for being religious.

They placed before Jesus a women accused of adultery. They are not requesting from him a judgment on her innocence or guilt, but rather they wanted to know from him what punishment should she receive. According to the law of that time, she should be stoned to death. Would Jesus agree to that?

Instead of an immediate response, Jesus bent over and began writing in the dirt with his finger. They asked him again, and he stood up, looked them in the eye and said that whoever among them that is without sin should throw the first stone. Then he bent back to the ground and continued his finger-writing.

One by one they walked away. No stones were thrown that day. Eventually, Jesus and the woman were alone. She awaited his response. It was straightforward. He did not condemn her. He told her she was forgiven by God.

Implied in his response was that God’s law and its enactment was being rewritten, revised and recast. (We are not told exactly what Jesus wrote in the dirt but likely an addition to God’s Law.) So, God’s moral law not only involved judgment, but it also included God’s forgiveness and God’s mercy, a favorite theme of Pope Francis. Forgiveness and reconciliation were an essential part of the moral order according to Jesus.

As it should be for us. It’s often easy to point to the weaknesses, misdeeds, faults and “sins” of others, but it’s not easy to be forgiving, especially if they are close to us. Harsh judgments happen even in families, between friends and neighbors. Forgiveness is never easy.

©David M. Thomas, PhD  


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