In the past when I have considered the story of Jesus defending the adulterous woman in John 8, I have wondered, “What was He writing in the dirt?” Today as I was doing my normal household work, I recalled this story with a new focal point: He was writing. The what does not matter so much as the action itself.
It is interesting to me that Jesus does not inquire about this woman’s past or present circumstances. She had been caught in the act of adultery–an especially big deal for her setting, which insinuates all is not well with this woman without defining whether the problem is within herself or brought on by an external force (e.g. in the matter of sexual abuse). Beyond her punishable actions, she likely has emotional hurts, needs, and a life reflecting those areas of brokenness. As God, Jesus would have known these things; as man, His knowledge of her circumstances may have been limited. Either way, it appears He chooses to see her future rather than her past.
There is a parallel here to the story of creation: man being formed from the dust compared to Jesus writing in the dust. Writing is an act of creation. It is the release of a word. In the beginning God created by releasing His word (and BTW the word for spirit/Spirit is the same as the word for breath in both Hebrew and Greek, so the process of speaking words is also a release of His Spirit). Jesus now re-creates this woman’s life in a similar manner. He draws/writes in the dirt His word regarding the situation, or perhaps about her, or perhaps about Him. And through this His Spirit is also released: a spirit who desires creation, re-creation, reconciliation, and love beyond any other thing.
Jesus’ judgment for this situation–His ruling–overlooks the problem of the past/present in order to present a vision of the future. The further surprise is that although Jesus is without sin, He too is not willing to stone this women. He says, “Neither do I [condemn you]. Go and sin no more” (verse 11). It is natural that the sinful religious authorities be denied the right to stone her for her sins; but Jesus, having true authority and the prerogative to carry out retribution, chooses re-creation instead of extermination.
If judgment is defined as making wrong things right, His judgment is against the accusations and religious traps of these particular religious leaders and for the restoration of this woman’s full being (her internal feelings, and her external actions). Love propels this restoration; accusation solidifies the problem and hinders positive growth. Love carries the authority to say, “Go. Be renewed,” because it provides a vision for that future renewal.