Now from ‘a little Plato’ to ‘a little Bible’. I take a very short cut. I shall proceed directly to the second writing in the sand by the one often addressed publicly as Teacher by his contemporaries, whose name is Jesus, the name still often heard from our lips, when we feel strongly about something and at the same time feel free with our language.
I find this a remarkable phenomenon, namely, that we occasionally feel free to express what’s in our hearts with his name. It seems to reveal, in spite of our intentions, that at heart we are not indifferent to him, but rather touched by him — one way or another. And that I find as something to wonder at after all these centuries.
The writing in the sand takes place in Jerusalem, in the Temple that traces its origin to King Solomon. Matthew, the writer of the first gospel, also traces the genealogy of Jesus, his bloodline, to exactly the same source, King Solomon. He does not hesitate to spell it out as follows: “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” That is to say, by another man’s wife, whose name is Bathsheba. I find this an astonishing prelude to Jesus being in this Temple in Jerusalem, as he faces one particular woman caught in adultery.
Now I am ready to consider the writing in the earth that he does with his finger in the Temple in Jerusalem, (John, Chapter VIII.)
“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives and early
in the morning he came again into the temple,
and all the people came unto him and having
sat down He was teaching them. And the
scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman
taken in adultery, and when they had set
her in the midst, they said to him, “Teacher,
this woman was taken in the very act of
committing adultery. Now Moses in the Law
commanded us, that such should be stoned,
but you, what do you say?” This they said
tempting him, that they might have to accuse
him. But Jesus, having stooped down, with
his finger wrote on the ground. So when
they continued asking him, he lifted up
himself, and said to them, “He that is without
sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
And again having stooped down he wrote on
the ground. And they which heard it and by
their own conscience being convicted, went
out one by one, beginning at the eldest
until the last; and Jesus was left alone
and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had lifted up himself and saw
none but the woman, he said to her:
“Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man
condemned you?” She said, “No man, Sir.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and sin no more.”
Members of the Class of 1974, it appears to me that what Jesus was writing with his finger on the ground, on the piece of the promised land, of the Holy Land, were ‘the two commandments’ as he calls them, ‘on which’, according to him, ‘all the Law hangs and the Prophets also’: ‘the first and the greatest commandment’, and ‘the second like it’. (Matthew 22: 34. . , Mark 12: 28. . , Luke 10: 25. . .)
When he stoops down the first time, he writes with his finger what appears to be the first of the two commandments:
“Thou shalt love the lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy
At this point the woman’s accusers still persist with their questioning and testing him in the name of God and his servant Moses, who came down from the mountain into the desert with the stone tablets and the Law engraved on them. So Jesus, in keeping with the spirit of the first of the two commandments, says to them: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”
Then he stoops down again, for the second time, and writes what appears to be the second of the two commandments:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor
At this point each man present begins to look into himself, and, each having looked into himself, they all leave, not as they came, for they came loudly and together, but they leave quietly and one by one, starting at the eldest and the wisest unto the last. And so Jesus, noticing that they are all gone, and that he is left alone with the woman, addresses her in the spirit of the two commandments, each illuminating the other at his heart: first he says, “Neither do I condemn you,” and then, “Go, and sin no more.”
And so it appears that with his finger Jesus transposes the Law engraved in the tablets from the stone into the earth, the same earth on which he stooped down, on which the woman stood, on which the custodians of the Law of the Land, her accusers and his testers, stood, namely their common Holy Land in this their Holy Temple.
In doing so he leaves in their hands nothing but stones with which to stone the woman or him or both. And yet the custodians of the Law were able to look into themselves and read the Law as written deeply in their hearts before God, the giver of both their Land and their Law. Thus Jesus with his humanity has restored the woman and her accusers to their humanity, uplifting it gracefully to the Law before God, the Mosaic Law of the Holy Land on which he stoops down, writes, and rises, on which they all stand and walk.
At this point I catch a glimpse of a remarkable reversal within our ultimate horizon.
At my first lookout point in the prison cell in Athens, what I saw was stretched from the Lyre into the Script. What I see here at my second lookout point in the Temple in Jerusalem is stretched from the Script into the Lyre in the reverse order of abiding consequences. Before taking a look at the consequences, I notice that prison and temple are also two images, two radically different icons of the human body with a view to what is simply good: the first from Athens, the second from Jerusalem. And now to the consequences, of the reversal between the Script and the Lyre.
Jesus, by his own account, came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The Law, to begin with, is the Script engraved in the stone tablets, and the Lyre is in the hands of the Prophets composing, writing and singing their songs before God, and bringing back the spirit, or the breath, of the Law to the breath of human life.
Already in the Book of Samuel we see bands of Prophets coming down from high places with Lyres, or psalteries, in their hands. King David was especially skilled at the lyre or psaltery. By far the greatest number of the Psalms in the Psalter is attributed to him, by the inscriptions that mark them in the Psalter, which is Israel’s hymn book. Many of the Psalms carry the musical and the liturgical directions for their use in the worship in this Temple. King David is also credited with organizing this worship and the cantors.
Now, in the story of Jesus, the woman, and her accusers, at the precise moment of humanity restored and gracefully uplifted to the Law in this Temple I see King David coming back with the Psalm 51 –which bears this remarkable inscription for all times and for all generations:
“To the choirmaster
Psalm of David when the Prophet Nathan
came to him because he had been with
Likewise, when Jesus’ own hour comes for which he came to fulfill the Law and to be crucified, he begins on the cross another song of King David’s, Psalm 22: 1.
“My God, my God, why hast Thou
Shortly after, he uses Psalm 31: 5,
“Father, unto Thy hands
I commend my spirit,”
and with these words he breathes his last.
Thus, it appears that where Jesus goes, in touch with his own destiny, fulfilling the Law, he recognizes in public that King David was there before him, with the lyre and the song, singing the way of his and his people’s destiny before God as preserved and kept alive in the liturgical tradition of the Temple. And that’s what I call ‘Biblical recollection’, deeply embedded within our heritage, within our ultimate horizon.
I gave you a sample of such Biblical recollection in the simple case where two people, in touch with their respective destinies, meet and recognize each other even across generations or whatever else might separate them within their common ultimate horizon. And when this happens, I see the stiffnecked, redblooded people becoming radiant with imperishable radiance — in their Temple, in their homes, in their schools, on their streets, in their ongoing lives: from the Script into the Lyre.
And from this point of lookout in the Temple in Jerusalem, I perceive in the prison cell in Athens something similar occurring, something I failed to see when I first got there: Socrates and the jailer recognizing each other and saying to those around, what a good man the other is.
Members of the class of 1974, this is the end of my speech. With it I tried to uncover for you a touch of faith, a touch of holiness at the living roots of our heritage, in this place of your choosing, the Church of the Holy Faith. With the speech I tried to point towards the imperishable radiance within our ultimate horizon, as I came to catch a glimpse of it. See for yourselves, at your own lookouts.
And now, instead of the customary prayer, I should like to pass on to you another verse from the Book of Psalms:
“This is the day that the Lord has made,
let us be glad and rejoice in it.”