We began our Lenten journey, allowing the dust of ashes be placed on our foreheads.
“Remember you are dust and into dust, you shall return” and here we are, almost at journey’s end and focused once again on dust … not the dust of ashes but the dust on the ground, dust used by Jesus to be his canvas as he wrote words that nobody seemed to read.
We know the story well.
A woman dragged into a hostile crowd and left there, standing before Jesus. No words exchanged between them. Chances are, like the father in last week’s Gospel passage, he saw her while she was still a long way off. Neither of them needed words. The speaking was done by her accusers. “Caught”, they told him, “in the very act of committing adultery”. Then they brought Moses into it, telling Jesus that Moses demanded women like this be stoned to death. “What do you say?” In their minds the answer was clear – in their hands, they held the stones. That’s when he started to write. Bent downwards, his finger traced letters, words, images may be in the sand but he said nothing. They were not happy with that response.
They wanted him to say “Stone her” so that other words he had spoken about forgiveness, second chances, turning the other cheek, treating others as you would want them to treat you, would all be overshadowed by his condemnation of this woman. He kept writing – doodling, in the dust. An answer was demanded, “What have you to say?” It must have seemed like an eternity to them – the time between the question and the response. “Let the one among you who has never sinned, throw the first stone”.
Turning to the ground – the dust, he begins to write again. Stones dropped, shuffling steps, muffled voices until he was alone – alone with the woman. “No condemnation?” She shakes her head. “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and sin no more”. Trócaire. Mercy! What is he writing on the land today? In the dust? “Grabbing”, “Oppression”, “Greed”, “Justice”, “Truth”, “Equality”, “NOW”.
Bent down, he’s avoiding eye contact because maybe he wants us to arrive at a place without feeling he’s looking directly at us, a place where we do the right thing by people, drop the stones and walk but …. is that enough? They walked away from the woman that day and, in walking away from her they also walked away from him. You’d like to think they might have dropped the stones, looked at her and with him, chosen not to condemn.