Posted by: fvbcdm | April 7, 2014

Feast of Saint John Baptist de la Salle (7 April 2014)

Did Jesus know, in his human nature, how to read and write? He certainly knew how to read, because we are told that he read the scriptures in the synagogues of Galilee. Our Lady and Saint Joseph would have been careful to teach him these skills. And although he no doubt knew how to write, we do not know for sure that he wrote anything, and certainly did not leave anything written.

I mention this today because in the gospel for this Monday, we find him writing with his finger in the sandy dust on the floor of the temple in Jerusalem. What we call “the temple” was a vast open space, about the size of three football fields, totally surrounded by a row of buildings in which there were two stories with many rooms used by the priests, levites, and members of the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jewish nation. In the huge open area, groups of people could gather to converse, study, sing, practice music, buy and sell animals or other offerings for sacrifice, pray, and meet friends in a religious atmosphere. The dust and sand from the surrounding countryside continually blew into the area; as a result, the floor of the temple enclosure was perpetually dusty and sandy, so that Jesus, seated on the floor and talking to his hearers, would have found it very easy to simply lean over and write with his finger in the dust on the floor. This is the only time we are told by the gospels that Our Lord wrote anything.

But what did he write? We don’t know. He was surrounded by a group of Scribes and Pharisees who had come upon a woman caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses said that she was to be stoned to death; Jesus preached mercy and forgiveness. So what would he do in this case? The malicious men were using her as a bait to trap Jesus. How did Our Lord answer their question: “What do you have to say about the case?” He bent down, and wrote with his finger in the dust. Unhappy with his failure to answer them, they pressed him. This time, he straightened up and said, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” Then he went back to his writing, or perhaps doodling, on the temple floor. Whatever he was writing, it seemed to indicate his unwillingness to become involved in their malice. Some of the commentators have suggested that he was writing the sins of the men who were bent upon the death of the adulteress, since Saint John tells us that they went away, “beginning with the elders.”

Maybe Jesus was writing the sins of these men, beginning with the elders.  When all her accusers were gone, Jesus looked up at the woman. “Has no one condemned you?” he asked her. “No one, sir.” “Nor do I condemn you. You may go, but from now on, avoid this sin.” A few moments before, her life was about to be ended.

Now, she is a free woman. Terribly embarrassed, shaken, and still quivering with fear, but free. When she was in the hands of the religious leaders, she was as good as dead. But now they have left her in the hands of Jesus. And she is free, and has a new lease on life. It is not the way of Jesus to condemn and to kill. Rather, to point out sin, forgive, and reconcile. It is because of this beautiful glimpse of the personality of Our Lord that we are encouraged to pray, “Lord, have mercy on us.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

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