As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
"Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust (John 8:3-8 NLT).
Do you ever wonder what Jesus "wrote in the dust with his finger"?
I sure do! I've looked at commentaries. I've tried to run cross-references. I've done word studies as if I could decipher this code embedded in the gospel. I've heard all sorts of theories and explanations — some intriguing, but none convincing to me.
The thought returned again to me early this morning: "I wonder what Jesus 'wrote in the dust with his finger'?"
Probably like you, I've seen the Ray Rice elevator video too many times this week. Seeing the video once was more than enough, but it has kept playing and playing on news channels and on sports channels so that everywhere I've gone this past week, I couldn't seem to escape it. Now I am inundated with my own set of questions.
When is enough, enough?
When does this event move us as a culture to do something substantial to protect women?
When does continuing to replay this move from news to exploitation?
When does this whole event move me to do something to make a difference?
What can I do?
How does this become something that is more than the hot button for a critical news cycle and then we are on to something else?
When do we deal with our sports lust that creates men who think they are entitled and untouchable?
God, what I am supposed to think, feel, and do in the face of all the violence against women, exploitation of women, and devaluing of women?
So maybe this whole set of questions is why I woke up this morning feeling like the Holy Spirit was nudging me with this one thought: "Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger."
What does this mean, LORD? Holy Spirit what do you want me to know? What is it that I am supposed to see in this? Jesus, what do you want me to do?
I went back and read the story once again in several translations. I chased one clue. The word translated "dust" is really the word for "earth." Does that mean something special? Is the message that Jesus wrote his love into the earth he created — written in dust, not chiseled into stone like the Mosaical Law — establishing a new principle that transcends law?
Hmm... interesting thought, but I'm not sure that's the point here.
The more I listened to the story and leaned in for the help of the Holy Spirit, the more I kept coming back to one clear realization: the story mentions that Jesus wrote in the dust twice, but never told us what Jesus wrote. Maybe what Jesus wrote isn't the point here. Asking what Jesus wrote is a Bible class question, a question to escape the cauldron of conflict that is going between Jesus and the "teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees." The woman is in this story for no other purpose than to serve as an illustration in the religious teachers' debate with Jesus. The woman was little more than window dressing with an exclamation mark for the religious teachers. She was there to help them make their point and trap Jesus!
What I kept hearing in my heart was this message:
Phil, this is a woman who was being exploited by religion. What does it matter what Jesus wrote? Isn't what Jesus did the real message here?
So Jesus stooped down and wrote love in the dust. Just as he had at creation, Jesus made new life out of the dust of the ground. This woman was given a new life out of an awful and inescapable mess.
For me, the message is pretty simple and very clear. Any time I stand between a group (or individual) and a woman being exploited, abused, or violated, I am following the example of Jesus. I am writing love in the dust of a fallen humanity who has repeatedly objectified, sexualized, and exploited women to satisfy its religious, political, and lust-driven agendas.
I must stand between.
I must write love in the dust.
How else can I call myself a follower of the Jesus who twice wrote love in the dust that day so long ago? Isn't that kind of behavior just as needed today?
Moving Beyond Just Talk
I am fairly certain you will have many chances in your life to personally stand between a woman and her accusers and exploiters. Calling law enforcement authorities for help when you know a woman is being abused or exploited is one clear way to help. Saying no to pornography is one way to refuse to fund and supply another member of the audience to an industry we know exploits women and enslaves children. But what are some other ways — practical ways — to stand between and write love in the dust for women today? I'd love to hear from you in the Facebook comment box below.
For global ways to help, here are three ideas I hope you will consider.
For women and young girls who are victims of sexual slavery, International Justice Mission is a great resource and does great work all over the world. If you are not familiar with them, please take some time to look at their website. I know and visited with some of their staffers on the ground in Asia and try to keep up with their work all over the world.
For women who are pregnant, needing help, and also wanting their children to find loving Christian families, you can support a respected and licensed Christian adoption agency or Crisis Pregnancy Center. I have worked with Christian Homes and Family Services and believe in what they do, but there are possibly some in your area that do similar work. Please check before you support, to find out their reputation, their licensing, and the quality of care for the women they serve.
Events like The Esther Initiative that seek to invest in the lives of women with Biblical materials or help women find money making projects they can do while caring for their children. One of the lest heralded pieces of Compassion International's work with families is their help with women developing these projects that help bring in a little financial support to help them care for their families in areas that are in extreme poverty.
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