The world around us loves to be judgemental: to condemn people when they do wrong, and to take delight in their fall from grace. This is especially true if they are famous or powerful. We put people on pedestals, and then we are surprised when they fall off. More than that, the media constantly encourages us to be critical of others. This is deeply corrosive, because it sets us up to think that we are somehow better. It’s not that we don’t do the same things, but only that we haven’t yet been found out, or had our misdeeds paraded in public. We all, each and every one of us, myself included, say and do things which we should not, which hurt others, and for which we need forgiveness. Thankfully, we can ask God and each other for forgiveness. Because of what Christ did for us, taking our sins upon himself, on the Cross, we are forgiven. God loves us, and in turning to God for forgiveness we are turning away from sin, and trying to live our lives in a new way. The Christian life is a constant repetition of this process, failing and trying again, and keeping on so that bit by bit, gradually, we let God be at work in us, to transform us. This enables us to be less judgemental, more loving, and more forgiving. Drawing on God’s love, we can build up a community that is filled with a radical transforming love, a force for good, a beacon of hope, sharing that love with the world around us.

In the prophet Isaiah we see that God is creating new opportunities: a way in the wilderness, streams in the desert. It is the hope that the Messiah will bring a new way of living which refreshes people, and which satisfies their deep inner thirst, in a way that nothing of this world can. Only Christ can give us living water, so that we can live in, and for, and through Him.

St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, writes to a church experiencing persecution. At the time of writing, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. Despite this, Paul’s message is one of hope for the future, because of what God has done for him. Paul knows that he has been forgiven, and made righteous, through Christ’s Death and Resurrection. And because of this he is happy to be called to share in that suffering and death. Paul realises that he is still a work in progress, but he trusts God to be at work in him, through Christ.

Today’s Gospel is the account of the Woman caught in Adultery. By the law of Moses she should be punished by being stoned to death. But Jesus’ response shows the world another way: it is the way of love and not of judgement. This passage is the only time when the Gospel writers record Jesus writing. After the Scribes and Pharisees have brought the unnamed woman to Him, He does the following:

‘Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.’ (Jn 8:6) 

This verse has puzzled people for centuries: what did Jesus write? The answer to this intriguing question may come from Scripture. A few verses earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus talks of rivers of living water. In the prophet Jeremiah we find the following words:

‘O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.’ (Jer 17:13)

We can speculate that this verse from Jeremiah is what Jesus wrote in the earth. Writing these words would both fulfil the prophecy of Jeremiah, and shame the accusers. Jesus is showing that the Scribes and Pharisees have turned away from God, towards legalism and judgmental behaviour. Those gathered would know the prophecy of Jeremiah, and also that Jesus has recently mentioned streams of living water. This verse allows us to understand what is going on. Jesus is fulfilling Scripture, and demonstrating that God should be characterised by love and mercy. 

The Religious Authorities have not quite understood the situation. They continue to press Jesus for an answer, which He does not give. Instead:

‘he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”’ (Jn 8:7)

Jesus’ position is non-judgemental, and highlights the hypocrisy of the accusers. He then returns to His writing:

‘And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.’ (Jn 8:8)

It is possible that Jesus was finishing the verse from Jeremiah. What we do know is that the combination of His words, written and spoken have a profound effect:

‘But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”’ (Jn 8:9-11)

Jesus does not condemn the woman: God is a God of mercy. However, Christ does say, ‘go, and from now on sin no more’ (Jn 8:11). Forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with contrition and repentance. We are loved, healed and restored by God, but with forgiveness comes a challenge: as Christians we are to turn away from  wrongdoing, from the ways of the world, and instead find life in Christ.

Lent gives us the opportunity to take a long, hard look at ourselves and at our lives. It is a time to recognise that we need to conform ourselves to Christ — to live, and think, and speak like Him. We need to be nourished, healed and restored by Christ, so that we can live lives which proclaim His love and His truth to the world. 

Let us open our lives to God’s Holy Spirit so that we may celebrate Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and our reconciliation with Our Heavenly Father. May God’s grace perfect our nature and fit us for Heaven, to share the divine life of love, and sing praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot The Adulterous Woman — Christ Writing upon the Ground (Brooklyn Museum)

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