Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
High up on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Michelangelo’s magnificent painting depicts the Creation Account found in the Book of Genesis. In Michelangelo’s depiction God’s finger reaches out to touch Adam’s finger. Into Adam’s already perfectly created body, God is about to endow Adam with an immortal soul. The hand of God is limpid, relaxed. God’s finger is beckoning, not accusing, gentle, not harsh.
Recently I found a copy of that painting and meditated for a while on what was transpiring. God’s creation of all else had been completed – this was His final and highest act of creation. Adam’s body had been brought into being. It now was about to receive an immortal soul and thenceforth all of Adam’s descendents would, because of him, be born with immortal souls. God’s profound and infinitely generous love was about to be given to us, His creatures brought into being from the slime of the earth, the descendents of Adam now ensouled –all of this because God effortlessly lifted His finger.
There are a number of instances in the Bible when we hear of God working, the image being of Him working through His finger. In the Book of Exodus we are told of Moses meeting God in the cloud on top of Mt. Sinai. There God gives Moses His promise to be with the Israelites throughout their journey to the Promised Land and thereafter until the end of time. At the end of that encounter God gives Moses the tablets of stone upon which He, with His finger, had written His Ten Commandments. The Book of Exodus tells us: When the Lord had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the commandments, the stone tablets inscribed by God’s own finger. (Exodus 31:18)
In today’s Gospel account we hear an echo of those stupendous moment when the finger of God is at work. Here we find a woman caught in the very act of adultery. She is dragged away and dumped at the feet of Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees who thereupon demand Jesus’ judgment of the woman.
The scribes and Pharisees knew what the Mosaic Law required, namely that this woman be stoned to death. They were not in the slightest bit concern with justice being done, rather they were intent on trapping Jesus so that they in turn could point their fingers and accuse Jesus of transgressing the law.
Sneering and contemptuous, they were waiting for Jesus’ response. They received a response they never expected… and at the same time they missed its meaning. The response came from the finger of God. God the Son, in an act of re-creation, simply writes in the sand and the woman is made over, made whole again. Along with her, the finger of God in Christ Jesus has touched us, the sons and daughters of God made from the slime of the earth.
Lots of people had tried to guess what Jesus wrote in the dirt, the only recorded act of writing by Jesus that we find in the bible. But concentrating on what He wrote can cause us to miss the message. It really doesn’t matter what He wrote. What matters is to see whose finger it is that is doing the writing. What matters for us is to see that Jesus lifted His finger to re-create us in the power of God, that power that gave us immortal souls when He created us in the first place.
A couple of other instances reinforce our understanding that Jesus brings the power of God to bear here in our world, creating, re-creating, healing, reconciling, and touching us with His powerful love.
The first reported by St. Mark. There we find Jesus outside of Jewish territory up near the land that today we call Lebanon. The local people brought to Him a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. Jesus “took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue…Instantly the man’s ears were opened and he could speak clearly.
Another instance occurred when Jesus had cast out something demonic from a man. Some who were there made the claim that it was by the power of the Devil that Jesus had done this. He refuted them by noting that the Devil could not be working against himself and ended by noting that “if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20).
If you take a long look Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s finger reaching out to touch Adam and that consider that moment when Adam was about to become fully human, someone filled with a soul destined to spend eternity with God in heaven, you can easily imagine an electric charge jumping from God’s finger into Adam’s outstretched finger. The image leads you to also wonder if Adam was about to cause his finger to touch God’s. Would Adam make the connection, or would God? Conjecture, of course.
But what of us? There’s no conjecture here! God has gone to infinite lengths not only to touch us but also to give us the Body and Blood of His Son as food to nourish us and sustain us in our own infirmities. And through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has made us temples of His Holy Spirit, temples in which He not only touches us but lives within us!
The connection has been made. God has gone beyond, far beyond, simply touching us. In Jesus Christ the power of God lives within us! With our fingers we can, with a boldness and faith far beyond that of Doubting Thomas, put our fingers into the Risen Christ’s wounds, our hands into His side, and in Holy Communion receive the power of the Son of God living within us.
We have been more that merely touched by God; we have been redeemed by God who, if we complete the connection, lifts us up into the heights of heaven.