Writing in the Dirt

I am on planes quite a lot.  So much so, I get to use the ‘fast’ priority lines through security.  It is but a small consolation to the weariness of travel.  Today, I was heading through security for a flight back home.  As usual, I walk into the priority screening lane and head to the front of the line.  The screening agent looks up at me and tells me that I am supposed to go around and get into the regular line.  I am a little taken aback by this.  The priority line was clearly open, my boarding pass said I could use it, and I didn’t want to go stand in that long security line.  So, trying to be polite as possible, I ask “Isn’t this the line for priority access?”  I have to admit my politeness was purely from a selfish motive.  I didn’t want to get ‘flagged’ as a trouble maker while trying to get home.  Anyway, I see the embarrassment in the guy’s face.  He then asks me “Are you priority?”  “Obviously I am or I wouldn’t be standing in this line'” I thought.  But, for self preservation again, I politely say “yes”.


This is where it gets interesting.  Obviously the guy was embarrassed.  He made a big scene and everyone around saw it.  What happened next makes me glad I was thinking of self preservation and didn’t sound like a jerk to the guy.  He takes my ID and starts looking at it closely.  He holds it up and starts looking at me closely.   He starts reading everything on it and feeling it with his thumb.  At this point I am starting to worry. This guy is trying his best to find something wrong. He even takes the ID and holds it under his UV light for a while trying to find some small mistake.  He takes so long, it would probably have been faster for me to have just moved to the back of the regular line.  The guy was obviously looking for public vindication to his embarrassment.  Luckily, my ID was new and in perfect order and he had to let me go.

The whole scene really brings to light how human pride and ego really affects our behavior.  Jesus faced a pride and ego moment once.  The Apostle John recounts this event.

John 8:3–11 –3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

This woman, caught in adultery, had committed the act.  This act was punishable by death according to the law God gave to the Israelites.  The men had every right to stone her.  According to the written law, they were righteous in doing so.  However, in their motives, they were anything but righteous. They wanted to trap Jesus.  They knew He had compassion on sinners and thought they might get Him to speak against the Law.  Of course, Jesus knew exactly what was in their minds.  He doesn’t question the fact that they had the right to stone her.  What He does is get these men to look inward and see their own selfish nature.

The very interesting thing in all of this is just how Jesus goes about this.  He simply ignores the question at first and starts writing on the ground. Undaunted though, the men keep asking.  So, Jesus says, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  At this point, he starts writing in the dirt again.  Now, there is a lot of speculation as to what exactly Jesus was writing.  Some say it was Bible verses.  Others think maybe He was listing each of these men’s sin.  Others even think he was just doodling.  In reality, it doesn’t matter what Jesus was writing.  If it was important, the Bible would tell us exactly what He wrote.  Besides, the scripture tells us that these men were convicted by what they heard, not by what Jesus wrote.

The really revealing thing is found in what is almost a side comment by John.  The Bible tells us that the men were convicted by their conscience, and then they left in a specific order.  The scripture says they left from the oldest to the youngest.  Now why would John give us this little detail?  At face value it seems unimportant and a waste of writing.  To understand this, you have to understand the mindset of the ancient Jew.  Jewish society in Jesus’ time was a total patriarchal society in which reverence and importance first went to men and then was determined by social status and age.  These men were all of the same social status so the only thing separating them in importance was their age.    Now, you mix in male ego, and you can start to see what is going on here.

Jesus completely knows the nature of man.  John 2:25  tells us that Jesus “had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” In this case, I believe Jesus is writing in the dirt solely to be non-confontational.  He is simply looking away.  Interestingly, Jesus has had no problem being directly confrontational with these same men before.  In one instance, He calls them a ‘brood of vipers’.  But in this case, someone’s life was at stake, and Jesus is determined to set her free.

By stooping down to write on the ground, Jesus does not look these men in the eye.  Men understand exactly what would happen if He had.  Men tend to ‘bow up’ at the slightest thought of a challenge. By occupying Himself with something other than these men, Jesus leaves an opening for them.   The oldest man there, who has no need to prove himself to the younger ones , does not feel challenged.  He is free to be convicted by his own heart and not be overwhelmed with ego.  This man seeing his own sin, simply walks away.  After this, the next oldest man is free to do the same.  There are only two men to whom he would think he needed to prove himself.  One just left and the other is not paying him any attention.  So, convicted as well, the second man leaves.  Then, all the others leave as well in order from oldest to youngest.  Notice that Jesus purposefully does not look up until all the men are gone. The Lord is infinite in His wisdom.  By handling these men this way, he not only freed the woman from them, but likely freed her soul as well.  Likewise, look at how He also ministered to these men and sent them on a path to repentance.  He did it with humility and understanding.

Thinking of both the compassion and the understanding of Jesus ought to humble each of us. Jesus knows when to be direct and when to be soft, when to be confrontational and when to be humble. Unlike my selfish act of politeness above, Jesus’ acts of compassion are completely selfless.  If we could but handle situations like He does, how many conflicts would be avoided?  How much more peaceful would our lives be?  I thank the Lord that He does know what is in me.  I thank Him that in spite of that, He loves me and has compassion for me.  I pray that He continues to change me to be like Him.

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