Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Ok, I am now up to John 8 in my slow struggle through the book of John. Chapters 7 and 8 have been incredibly slow going for me; the "Tabernacle discourse" seems soooooo circular at times.

But, hey, let’s start off this week with one of my “favorite mysteries in the Bible,” John 8:5-6:

“Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”

I sure hope that when I finally get to have a conversation with Jesus, he has a “Frequently Asked Questions about me” sheet, and this one is on it, or else I’ll just have to ask him myself. I have always wondered what he wrote on the ground that caused the crowd to re-think stoning the woman caught in adultery.

I don’t even speculate what he might have written. I do have my “flip answer”, though, given the fact two Very Big Somethings are missing in this story...I like to joke that maybe he wrote...

“Where’s her husband, and where’s the other guy?”

Have you ever noticed in this story that neither the husband nor the lover are nowhere to be seen?

If you look in Leviticus, Lev. 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”

Ok, so where’s the guy?

Also, this story is “early in the morning.” Where’s the husband? Did he catch her? Is he trumping something up? Is he out of town? Are the Pharisees trumping something up because she smarted off to them or they just don’t like her? Did they raid her house? What’s up here?

There is something in this story that smells of “kangaroo court.”

But the fact of the matter is, whatever Jesus wrote, (and I don’t even pretend to know, honestly) it led to him telling the crowd “Ok, fine. Whichever one of y’all is sinless, go ahead and take a pot shot with a rock at her. Have at it.”

But they lost their taste for the notion. Also, do you ever notice in the story, the elders—the scribes and Pharisees—were the first to leave. Hmmmm. Wonder what THAT was all about. It leads to me seriously thinking the thing was all trumped up.

If the husband WERE there, he’d either be having a change of heart about it, begging them not to, or would be really pissed and yelling, “Yeah! Stone the bitch! She cheated on me!”

If she was caught “in the act”, well, where’s the guy? Some naked or half dressed guy certainly couldn’t get far (unless he had just pulled up his robe to do it, ha ha...I have always figured the answer to “what did Biblical people wear under their robes?” is “nothin.” hee hee) But something “just ain’t right” here. She says in verse 11 that “no one has condemned her.” Well, that’s kind of a mysterious answer since she just got hauled into court and was accused of a condemnable offense.

Or, maybe she WAS caught in the act and John just did a crappy job of putting the details in b/c he was more interested in telling the reader that the woman was “dead to rights” and was pardoned for something “she didn’t deserve to be pardoned for,” and that is sort of what Jesus is all about. I don’t know.

But this verse has a personal parallel.

There is no doubt that things have been happening to me to make me re-think my positions on a lot of things. So I guess a more personal way of asking that question is, “What did Jesus write on the ground of my being, that changes the part of my heart that condemns myself and others?”

What does Jesus write upon me that makes me change my own mind about tossing a rock at me?

What does Jesus write upon me that causes me to soften my heart about anger I might feel to others?

What does Jesus write upon me that causes me to “re-think my position” on so many things?

What does Jesus write upon me that tells me to sit still with things, to be silent, to simply “be” with God instead of rushing off to “do”?

The answer is the same...”I don’t know, and I don’t even care to speculate. I just know Jesus ended up telling me something that turned my heart.”


Having been harshly criticized for responding to antique blog entries - entries you have long ago forgotten - I write with some fear and trembling, compelled to so by the infrequent appearance of your comments on the gospel of John and by the fear that you might not continue them, that you might need a little assurance that folks - like me - read them, enjoy them, look forward to them. You have a gift for biblical commentary. You search for a personal spiritual meaning, a meaning you can use, one that is clear and understandable and universal. You are not overly concerned with the intention of the author, or problems of authorship, or textual questions, or the influence of the passage on the development of Christian theology. You read it as a message to you. This I envy. One of my many faults is that I mistake "thinking about religion" for "being religious" - reading a passage and considering only what it meant in the past, what it meant and means to others, without a thought of how it might be applicable to me. But after reading your comments, I see these old familiar stories in a new light, with fresh eyes, curious about what they really mean - mean to me. So keep writing.

By the way, for fun, and since you asked, even if only rhetorically, "Where's the other guy?", my suggestion is that perhaps he was "uncircumcised", not subject to the law of Moses, that he was perhaps was one of the occupying Roman soldiers, a class of men not particularly known for its respect for the virtue of subject people. This would explain why the Pharisees did not catch him (although caught in the act), why they did not consider stoning him, and, of course, this creates a little extra sympathy for the "fallen woman" who may have had little or no choice in the adultery. (This is a personal prejudice, thinking all women are good, holy, virtuous - though I really know better.)

However, what really bothers me is the complete lack of a "Pro Life" message. No one seems at all concerned with whether there is "innocent life" somewhere growing in the poor woman. No one suggests that they wait a month or two before stoning her. The Pharisees want to start picking up stones then and there. Even Jesus does not suggest a delay. Course, this passage is in John - whether it belongs there or not - and so Jesus knows exactly the state of her uterus is at that moment - in fact, knew it before the foundations of the world. So he is "off the hook" (He knows!) - perhaps - but on the other hand, he already knew at that moment what would be the big "religious" controversies of the early 21th century and knew that a word from him at this moment about "making sure that an innocent life is not taken with the guilty" would settle one particularly troublesome contemporary dispute. And yet he does not address this issue - is concerned only with the character of the executioners. Could the fundamentalist right-wingers be actually wrong. Think of all those poor pregnant women in all those Canaanite cities that were "devoted" to Jehovah. There must have been a virtual holocaust of innocent, unborn, life. Could God be indifferent to the Unborn?

Good grief. I got carried away again. Can understand why John is your least favorite gospel. Giving Jesus all these divine powers, making him omniscient, omnipotent, etc, turns him a rather unappealing character, one to whom it is extremely difficult to relate. Thank goodness I have a friend who can interpret these stories and bring out their real spiritual meaning. Thank you.

As always, enjoyed the comments.

Well, and what I do recall (but cannot remember if this is a Leviticus paraphrase, or Deuteronomy) or even if it's Talmudic...but I have a recollection that the ancient Hebrew definition of "definitely pregnant" was based on quickening. In a scenario where someone harms a woman and causes her to miscarry, there is a harsher penalty when the woman who miscarried had sensed quickening vs. one who didn't.

In that historical time, that definition was a sensible one. My guess is women miscarried even more frequently than they do now, as "prenatal care" as we know it did not exist.

So in that light, that may be the issue in this story.

But yeah, the other three Gospels paint Jesus as far more "human". John makes him more "divine." But I suppose when you consider that most scholars think that John was written for a predominantly Greek audience, the Greeks were used to their deities being very "divine", and that probably WAS appealing to them to have a more distant, obviously divine Jesus.

So many of the Greek myths have their gods taking advantage of human foolishness. I wonder if it intrigued the ancient Greeks that Jesus never took advantage of the foibles of the human condition?

Yes, but I am not Greek. I am uncomfortable with omniscient, omnipotent beings running around on earth - they just cannot be up to any good, otherwise they would have taken some responsibility for the planet and not have left it in the mess it's in.

Guess I need to get a little more serious. I really have trouble with John's Christ. He is too divine to be fully human - does not know doubt - has certainty not faith - and so is not "like me". And yet he is too human to be divine - too knowable, too understandable, and so limited, to embody all the mystery of a transcendent being, to be a "great cloud of unknowing", to be the unfathomable depths of spirituality. So I am grateful that we have the Jesus of the synoptic gospels. Course, there are passages of John's gospel that I treasure, that I read over and over, that are at the core of whatever spirituality I have - but I am just uncomfortable with his Christology. I need a Christ that is "like me" but also godlike, revealing God, but not encompassing him completely - need a Christ who occasionally feels forsaken, who sometimes doubts, who wonders sometimes if he is really on "a mission from God". Guess I might be a heretic.

Know for sure that I am a Devil's advocate. Have been racking my brain trying to think of some example of Jesus taking advantage of human foibles. Best I can do is the story found in the 18th chapter of the First Infancy Gospel where Jesus has his boyhood companions treat him as a king - where he has them give him a crown of flowers and seat him on a throne.

By the way, I enjoyed your entry about the fireflies. I regard such numinous, transcendent moments as the signs of a deeper world, a world of meaning and beauty and mystery - a world beyond us. You write so vividly that I felt I was there in the pasture seeing those fireflies with you. Course, being cynical, my thoughts would not have been your thoughts - might have been something like "All those thousands of poor fools, each one lighting his little light in the darkness, and the darkness still prevails". Or, perhaps, even more sadly I might have reflected that each little creature, out there in the dark, was looking for love, was sending out the flashing message "Come to me. I am vigorous. Together we can be happy" - each one deluding himself - and that here was a true "field of dreams" - a whole field full of longing, dreaming, soon-to-be disappointed, soon to be dead, little bugs, lost out there in the dark.

Sorry for wasting your time. As you know, I get carried away.



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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