First of all, I’ll start by saying that Saint Anthony showed me what Jesus wrote in the dirt in John 8:6-11. He showed this to me more than 28 years ago. I have always wondered what I was supposed to do with that knowledge.
For some reason I have always thought that I should keep this to myself and when a certain person comes along, then I should show it to them and they will immediately recognize it. One time when my wife and I were going to see Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audience, I thought that maybe I should draw it on a piece of paper so that when he sees it, he will know what to do. I didn’t do that however, and just resorted to smiling a lot and taking his picture.
I have revealed this to a few people throughout the years, and so far, I think the significance was lost on them. So, I continued to wait. I kept thinking that what Jesus wrote in the dirt was supposed to be kept a secret and that when the time came to show it to the right person, then everything would be clear.
Now that Saint Anthony seems to have told me to start sharing what I have learned from him, I still feel reluctant to share this one thing. This is still me wanting to take the flame into the cave and keep it for myself (see the post: “The Candle and the Cave“). It is actually painful, because I have kept this to myself for so long that I feel like it is just for me to know.
I will, however, share this with you as I have promised myself and Saint Anthony that I will share what I have learned. So, I will ease myself into it by explaining a couple of things first.
First of all, it was common for people to write in the dirt as paper was expensive and ink was not readily available. Archimedes, according to legend, was writing a mathematical equation in the dirt the day a Roman soldier came to arrest him and bring him to Caesar, who wanted to meet the guy that personally kept his army at bay for a long time. When the soldier stepped on his equation, Archimedes must have said some choice words to him, because the soldier struck him dead.
The story when Jesus writes in the dirt begins with John 8:3-6:
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
Second thing to note: “They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.” — Not so they could stone the woman. The charge they are talking about is that only the Romans can condemn a person to death as is seen during the Passion of Christ when the Pharisees have to take Jesus to Pilate.
So, if Jesus condemns the woman to be stoned, then that is all they need to bring a charge against him. So, when Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” That’s all they needed to hear. They could have brought the charges against Him right then and there… but they didn’t.
It was because of what He wrote in the dirt the first time He stooped down to write in the dirt. It made some people curious and after seeing what He wrote the second time, those guys left in a hurry. And those guys were the elders: “And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”
I have always heard while growing up, and still today that Jesus was listing some sins, or a symbol that they recognized as sins as in Daniel when the hand wrote on the wall (see Daniel 5:5-6). “Suddenly, opposite the lampstand, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace. When the king saw the hand that wrote, his face became pale; his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked.”
What I used to think when I heard this explanation is what I would have done if I was one of the Pharisees. I would have ignored the list of sins, and brought charges against him as we originally planned. After all, he just told them to kill the woman. I don’t think the Pharisees suddenly decided to become introspective about their sins when their goal is to have Jesus arrested.
So, with that in mind, here I go. “I’ve put this off for far too long” (As Bilbo Baggins thought to himself before leaving the Shire to go live at Rivendell). I’m no artist, so don’t take this as an exact copy, but here is what Jesus wrote in the dirt the first time he bent down:
You don’t get it. Do you? That’s ok. You aren’t supposed to. However, it does peak the interest of a few in the front who are confronting Jesus. Maybe puts a tiny bit of doubt that this was a good idea. You’ll see why below.
You see, at this point is when Jesus says, “He who is without sin cast the first stone” and the Pharisees can run to the Romans and claim that Jesus just told the crowd to stone the woman. It isn’t as if it matters that no one throws a stone. It matters that he told them to do it. But they don’t. This symbol stopped them.
When Jesus bends down to write a second time, he begins writing something next to this first symbol. He takes his time. What he is drawing can take as long as he wants. He begins something like this:
If you still don’t get it. That’s ok. You aren’t supposed to. Even the Apostles didn’t get it and just think he’s doodling in the dirt to buy time. The only people who understand this are the “Elders”. This is directed directly at them and it is a threat. It tells them that if they don’t stop pursuing this, they will be the ones that will end up being stoned.
To the rest of the people Jesus just seems to be doodling in the dirt as he keeps drawing. The elders on the other hand become frightened and head for the nearest exit.
The crowd thinks that the elders are leaving because even they are admitting that they are sinners, and the lesson that Jesus wants to impart on them is successful.
Jesus takes his time and draws some more. While he appears disinterested in what the crowd is doing, he is actually fully engaging the elders.
It looks more like this after a while…. keep in mind, that this isn’t exactly what he drew, I’m just trying my best as a person trying to draw this using “Paint”:
Any Elders who didn’t get the hint at first are now sure of what Jesus is implying, and they quickly leave the scene. As the rest of the people realize that the spectacle they came to see is not going to happen, they begin filing out while Jesus continues drawing.
As you can see, Jesus is drawing a large tree. I’m not doing justice to the creator of the Universe who is the original artist. He could keep adding branches and details while he was waiting for the crowd to leave. I’m just drawing this to illustrate the point.
Now for an explanation.
In my last post, I explained that the tests that the Pharisees and Sadducees used to try to trap Jesus are often found in the books in the Old Testament that have been removed in the Kings James version of the Bible. See the post “Tobit and the Sadducees“. Much like the crowd watching Jesus draw in the dirt, they may not know the story that the Elders know that makes this drawing tell the Elders specifically that they are about to be stoned.
The story is found in Daniel Chapter 13. If you happen to be sitting in a hotel room and you reach in the drawer and pull out a Bible that has been placed there by the Gideons and you turn to the book of Daniel, you will find that the book ends with Chapter 12. You see. The King James Version of the Bible is missing Chapter 13 and 14, that are found in a Catholic Bible.
Chapter 13 is the story about a married upright woman named Susanna. To summarize the story, she is stalked by two “Elders” who were appointed judges and want to have their way with her. One day after the two had been visiting her and left, they each returned on their own to see about cornering her into a situation (so to speak). They end up running into each other and admitting that they each want the same thing.
The two Elders hid themselves and waited for an opportunity to capture her alone. Anyway, they tell her that if she refuses them, they will turn her in and she will be put to death. She refuses. They turn her in and they are on their way to stone her when the Holy Spirit tells Daniel what’s happening.
The Elders had testified that when they were hiding behind a tree, they saw Susanna committing adultery with another man, and they tried to catch him, but he escaped.
So, when Daniel realizes that they have been lying, he separates them and asks them what kind of tree were they hiding behind. One says a Mastic tree. The other says an Oak tree. The two Elders are caught in their lie and end up being stoned. A Mastic tree is a small squatty looking tree, while an Oak is a large majestic tree. No one would mistake one for the other.
That’s why when Jesus drew the two trees in the dirt, the Elders knew right away that if they stayed, Jesus was telling them that they would be the ones who would be stoned. — Note that they didn’t bring the man with them who was also committing adultery, just like in the story about Susanna. — So, they left.
In a very clever way, Jesus has saved the woman from being stoned, scared the Elders into fleeing and taught the crowd a lesson about judging others when we are all sinners. I’m sure he had a big grin on his face when he stood up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”