“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
”No one, sir,” she said.
”Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This story is terrifying. A woman, caught (we are told) in an act of impropriety, is brought against her will before Jesus who is pressured to decide whether she lives or dies. This is not, it seems, a fervent quest for justice, but rather a trap and a basis on which to accuse Jesus of failing to uphold the law of God. This woman’s life does not matter to her accusers. She is seen not as a person with agency but as an object, a means to prove this point at any cost. It’s a distressing story with the highest stakes possible for this woman whose life is simply not valued. In this moment when the pressure is up and all eyes are on Jesus to act decisively, what does our Lord do?
He crouches down and starts doodling in the dust. Before all this anger and emotional volatility, Jesus sketches in the dirt, maybe patterns, maybe fish and nets and boats… there is no way of knowing. When pushed to do something, Jesus instead does something else. He plays. In his refusal to respond in kind to their anger, they are unmasked and made to look ridiculous. They leave, embarrassed, while Jesus keeps doodling.
We all are under pressure every day with serious stakes. Yet if we allow the pressure to rule us or succumb to the pressure to respond immediately to all the problems before us, this frustrating thing always seems to happen: new problems pop up. We respond to e-mails and return phone calls only to have those new communications raise new questions in need of our response. We meet one deadline only to see another one, previously hidden behind the prior work, ready to take its place.
It seems there will always be more work to do. And, praise God, it is good to be useful and to have ways to be helpful to others in this life. But listen: we were made for more than checking boxes off of to-do lists. True success and joy follow after we have the strength ourselves to face down a world which is shouting at us and demanding we decide something crucial and, instead, start doodling in the dust ourselves. What do you do to decompress or unwind? Do you craft? Play an instrument? Read? Walk? Garden? Whatever it is, do not let the demands of others break in so fully as to steal the enjoyment and peace which come from participating in the things you love.
It might seem a bit morbid to remember, but in a few short decades almost no one us reading this message today will be alive. As Charles de Gaulle is said to have quipped “the graveyards are full of indispensable men.” New people with new to-do lists will have taken our places and be faced with important challenges in need of urgent responses, and many will set aside the things which bring them joy to address them immediately.
Don’t do that.
Resist the impulse to be only efficient and effective and instead dare to enjoy the God-given life you have this very moment. Find your own patch of dust and sketch out your story for no one else but to the glory of God. Dare to play and, in so doing, remind this world that we were created to be so much more.
Grace and Peace,