I remember once thinking that it would be fantastic if we could travel faster than the speed of light. If we could do that, we could theoretically go back in time. I wondered about what kind of use this would have. What events would I want to see in the past?
One that actually came to mind was when Jesus is confronted by the religious teachers with an adulterous woman caught in her sin. Instead of responding, he stoops down to the ground to write in the dust. Then he tells them, "Whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone." He continues to write in the dust. Finally they all back off. Jesus and the woman are left alone, and he tells her to leave her life of sin.
A powerful story. Unique, that's for sure. And it always made me wonder what Jesus wrote in the sand. We'll never know, I thought, without time travel, that is. What could possibly have made them all walk away?
I've been reading a book called Understanding Jesus by Joe Amaral, and it tries to muddle through some of the cultural things happening at the time of Jesus to clarify some stories. And it seems to make sense of this one. The passage before the story, Jesus claims himself as the Messiah when he proclaims that he is the living water they've all been waiting for. This happened the day before the story of the adulterous woman.
When they bring the woman before Jesus, he writes in the dust. This doesn't seem to do anything, but then he tells them to cast a stone if they are without sin. Joe Amaral jumps back to Jeremiah 17:13, "O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water."
While we don't catch the reference because we don't know our Bibles nearly as well as they would have, he's indicating to the men there: You have forsaken me. This fact is made even clearer by his proclamation that he's the living water they're begging for. Clearly they would have remembered that from the day before. And now he's referencing the other part of the passage that would have come to their minds: will be written in the dust.
So what's he writing? By the sounds of it, he was writing their names. Once they saw their names and realized what Jesus meant, they left.
The moment still stands out as strange and unique in my mind, and I still wouldn't mind time-traveling back to see what went down. But for now, this will have to do.