The Gospel of John is a collection of stories that tell a larger story of Jesus. Most of the events in John did not actually happen historically, but just because the stories are made up, that doesn’t mean they’re not true.
The episode that we hear today is not even part of the original Gospel of John. It’s a folk story that comes from the oral tradition about Jesus. Some older versions of the Bible put this story in Luke instead of John, but look. Just because it’s a made up story, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. So go with me for a minute…
Let’s just say some pages of a memoir were recently unearthed, maybe something from the journal of a guy named Jake, because as it turns out, I have such a journal entry to share with you. Now what I’m about to read is entirely fictional, but you understand. Just because it’s made up, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Here’s what Jake writes:
Sometimes people can tell you an exact date when their life changed. It’s like when you look back, there’s a day that divides everything into a before and an after, and this was that day for me. I’m going to try to write everything down because I can’t imagine falling asleep, and I’ve been up since before five o’clock this morning.
That’s when Dan wanted us to be at her house. Now you’ve got to understand, I didn’t really know her. Her brother was in my Hebrew class a whole lifetime ago, so I knew who she was. Then again, everybody knew who she was.
Today Dan sent Ben and me to wake her up and— make her come with us. The whole time I’m thinking how exactly are we going to compel her compliance. I mean, of course we could take her… But as it turns out, she didn’t even fight us, she didn’t even scream. She started pleading, but you could tell, she could tell there was no use. She was terrified.
I kept trying to convince myself that this was her fault. I mean, she must have done something to earn her reputation…
Anyway, Dan said this would be the only way to stop the rabbi. This guy’s been drawing crowds of people, they think he’s the Messiah, and we can’t have that! You know what the Romans would do if we don’t get this under control? Surely, Dan knew what he was doing. He said it was the perfect plan.
Now who knows, maybe centuries from now, in a far away land, some nice group of people will have found a translation of this writing, so I feel like it’s important to explain… I didn’t join up with this unit of Pharisees because I wanted to haul women out of their homes at five o clock in the morning. Exactly the opposite! I became one of Dan’s students because of my cousin Jeremy.
Right now, I will write the words I can’t even say out loud. My cousin Jeremy is in a Roman prison. I’m pretty sure that my aunt visits him to bring him food, but in my family, everybody knows. We don’t talk about Jeremy.
You have to understand, I have all sisters, so growing up, Jeremy was like an older brother. I wanted to be just like him, that is, until he did what he did. When we found out about his arrest, my whole world shattered. I mean, how selfish could he be! It’s like he never even considered what his crime would do to the rest of us. Everyone looked at our family. When I saw what this did to my parents, I made the decision to run as far as I could in the opposite direction.
I thought that by following Dan, one of the leaders of the Pharisees, by becoming his star protege, then in some small way, I could repair the damage that Jeremy caused. See our work is to restore the law in our community. By doing this, we mean to let the law restore us. It’s not just a set of rules; the law is how we live in the light of God. There is nothing more important.
We cannot let the Jeremys of the world think they can get away with crime. He put himself in prison; he’s exactly where he should be! We cannot let this radical rabbi go around stirring up the people! I knew that we had to stop him any way that we could.
I did not expect that when this girl looked at me with her eyes pleading for help, just for a flash of a second, I swear I saw Jeremy.
When we got her to the temple, Dan was ready. Sure enough, a crowd had gathered to hear the rabbi, and Dan had him cornered: Teacher, this woman was arrested this morning! Caught in the act of adultery! The law of Moses requires us to stone her to death, and I know you would never violate the law. What do you think we should do?
Now we all knew, there’s no way the rabbi would let her get killed! As soon as he called for her release, that’s when we were going to let her go and seize him all in the same breath. We were in position, ready to arrest him—
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
He looked at the girl, then he bent over and began writing something on the ground. A shudder rippled through the crowd.
These boys had been running around, they were little, and I didn’t think anything of it until I saw them picking up rocks from where part of the wall had crumbled. One of them pressed a rock into my hand, and my stomach lurched. This was not the plan! It is our sworn duty to uphold the law. I would give my life for the heart of the law, but come on, we’re not really going to kill her, right? Ben looked at me; we were thinking the same thing: We didn’t actually see her… Now there’s a rock burning my hand.
Ben and I were trying to get Dan’s attention —he had to call this off! But that’s when the rabbi began to speak: Okay, he said. You do what you have to do. But let anyone who’s without sin be the first to throw a stone.
The teacher bent down again and wrote something on the ground in front of Dan, and when Dan saw it, his whole face softened. I saw him look at the girl for the first time.
Jesus began going around to each one of us, writing in the dirt on the ground. Some people started the rumor that Jesus was writing out our sins. That’s not true, but I get why they thought that.
When Jesus got to me, he wrote one single word: Jeremy.
Sure enough, there’s nothing that provokes as much guilt, nothing that makes me feel so indicted. That’s the thing they don’t tell you when somebody you loved gets locked up —you can be angry at them and guilty at the same time. So yeah, if all you saw was my face, you would think Jesus had just written down the shame of my shame, but actually…
Once Jesus stood up and looked at me, that’s when I remembered. Here’s a man who knows exactly what it is to have a cousin in prison, only his cousin was just killed by Herod. When Jesus wrote Jeremy’s name on the ground, he saw a part of me I tried not to let anybody see. This was not Jesus exposing our sin. This was Jesus offering me a sign of solidarity.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had anyone look at you and see you for who you really are… It will change your life. Now we’re standing there, Dan is looking at this girl he made us kidnap, and for this first time, I think he saw who she was.
Suddenly, he dropped his rock on the ground, so we dropped ours too, and the stones hit the ground and made the dust scatter. Now no one could see what had been written down. That’s when Dan stepped past us and just walked right out through the plume of dust, through the crowd of people. The rest of us followed him. And that’s it. He just headed toward home!
I don’t know what Jesus wrote on the ground in front of Dan, but whatever it was, it changed him. Whatever it was, it made Dan confront his own mercy.
I mean, who knew you could just drop the rock? Even when they hand you the rock, and you believe in the job they sent you to do —who knew you could just drop the stone and walk away even though it will cost you… It will change your life.
If I had to make a prediction, I would tell you, we’re not going to remember this. One or way or another, the day will come when somebody in charge is going to move on Jesus, and he’s going to get arrested. Already the priests have been bargaining with Rome. When the crowds who adore the rabbi go and turn on him, you know they’re not going to let him get away alive.
I can tell you, I don’t want any part of that. I really believe that the law of God is the path I need to follow, it’s just… After today, I’m not sure where this is leading. Probably, Dan isn’t either. Today I saw something in him change, and that makes me not want to give up on him. One of these days, I’ll go back to the temple, but there’s something I’ve got to do first. I’ve got to go see Jeremy. Turns out, there’s another rock I need to let go of.
And well, there we have it; that’s where it ends. This is the word of Jake. May God give blessing on our reading and hearing.