Jesus writes in the dust

John 8:1-11

In China it is illegal for children not to visit their parents. In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon. In England, it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.

The world is full of some strange laws. Thankfully many of them are impossible to apply. They exist however, written somewhere, the unpicking and revoking of them considered too expensive and troublesome to bother with.

What law then do we find in our Gospel reading. We may take it on face value, that the Pharisees were enforcing a law from the old covenant that we find harsh and difficult.



And yet even in Leviticus we struggle to find the law as they present it. There are Laws against adultery and the punishment is harsh. But the process is more complex. Both parties must be brought for judgement. There must be witnesses to the act. Those witnesses must be willing to carry out the punishment. It is a law that existed and spoke of the seriousness of sin, and yet was almost impossible to apply. It was a law that stood in contrast to those of Israel's neighboring cultures where no such safeguards existed. It was a law, however hard it might be for us to comprehend, of mercy over judgement.



And so the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were testing Jesus indeed. They had twisted the law to serve there own ends. They had brought a young woman to judgement who in the sight of the law should be treated with mercy.

And Jesus writes in the dust.

What can this mean?

We read in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah :

O hope of Israel! O Lord!
All who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the dust,
for they have forsaken the fountain of living water, the Lord.

Jesus' writes in the dust recalling the words of the prophet. Those who have come in judgement of this young woman have turned away from the Lord, forsaken the fountain of living water. In John's Gospel shortly before this incident Jesus says:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’
As the accusers continue to question Jesus he speaks:
Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
And again, Jesus writes in the dust.

Those who accused the young woman in the temple see the writing in the dust. They see their own sin, their own desire to manipulate God for their own purposes. They see their own rebellion against God.

In Genesis God speaks to a humanity who have chosen the path of rebellion against God:
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for ou of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
We shall hear those words spoken to each of us this night. We are dust. We shall return to dust.

And Jesus writes in the dust.

What words does Jesus write in the dust of our hearts? Do we see the words of condemnation, knowledge of our own sin and falling short of all that God would have us be? We are all Sinners, otherwise we would have no need to be here this day, we would have no need of the words of confession and absolution we shall hear this night.

But that is not the end of the Gospel. Christ lived, suffered and died to write new words in the dust of our hearts, and to bring living water.

Jesus lived, suffered and died to write new words in the dust of the woman's heart:
Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.
Or as the words to each of us will be:
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
During lent we walk with Christ, we fast and pray. This action is powerful, like writing in the dust. Going without things we take for granted is a form of prayer that transform us and changes the world around us.

In the Church of England since the book of common prayer in 1662 Anglicans are expected to fast throughout lent, on other holy days, and every Friday throughout the year apart from Christmas day. Perhaps this is another law that seems impossible to apply. Fasting does not mean eating nothing at all, but rather seeking to eat and live simply on those days. I commend the practice to you, it is biblical, it is Anglican, and it is Christian.

But if that is all we take away from Lent we have missed the purpose. Jesus came to fulfill the spirit of the law and not the letter. Jesus came not to condemn us but to bring mercy, forgiveness and life. Jesus came to be a living well of water bringing us refreshment and peace.

As dust is written in our foreheads this night embrace Jesus, cling to him. Receive his forgiveness and live.

Amen.











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