I always chuckle a bit when I think of our Western concept of “The Finger.” We all have 10 fingers, and refer to each one as “a finger,” with two exceptions. We call those “The Finger,” even though there’s two of them. This has little to do with what I’m writing about today, I just think it’s funny.
Anyway, there’s an episode in the New Testament where Jesus does something with his finger in a way that’s deeply insulting to the crowd he’s addressing. The story goes like this:
A crowd of religious leaders, seeking to put Jesus on the spot and expose Him as a fraud, offers up a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. This particular sin, at the time, was considered to be one of the worst a person could commit. They declared, “Our law says we should throw rocks at her until she’s dead, what do you think?”
Jesus knelt down and began to write in the sand with his finger. I’m not sure if he used “The Finger,” but he might as well have. There’s a lot of speculation among Biblical scholars about what Jesus was writing, but that’s not what the author of this passage wants us to think about. He goes out of his way to use the phrase “His finger” and expects us to ask the question “what does Jesus’ finger have to do with the story?
As He wrote, with His finger, these leaders kept bothering him for an answer, so He stood up and said something akin to “you’re not righteous enough to condemn this person,” then bent down again to finish whatever it was that He was writing as the formerly self-righteous crowd dispersed. See the whole story here.
This passage is written by one of Jesus’ Apostles and can be found in the New Testament’s “Book of John.” If you read the entire book, you’ll learn early on that John believed Jesus to be God in human form – “God in the flesh, fully God, fully Man” as He’s so often referred to throughout history.
Let’s go with that idea for a minute. Let’s say that Jesus was God, and these religious leaders, who confessed to be sold out to God – heart and soul – are standing in His presence.
They know by heart another story in their scriptures of God doing something with His finger, an episode where God writes their law, ironically enough. So here they are, God’s holy army, standing next to Him in every sense of the word, and here He is, again, writing something with His finger, just like He did in the presence of Moses on Mount Sinai. Any one of these leaders would have given their left arm to stand next to God while He writes, but all they want to do is discredit Him, and kill someone. They’ve somehow become convinced that they have the right.
Jesus knows they don’t understand who He is, nor will they get the insult He’s hurling at them, but their hypocrisy makes Him angry. Hence the “gesture.”
In the Old and New Testament stories, it’s the people who think they’re in good standing with God who really make Him angry. They’re also the ones who wouldn’t recognize God if He were standing right in front of them.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that they stand take heed lest they fall.Apostle Paul from his first letter to the church in Corinth
Self-righteousness, i.e. the idea that the way you live has given you favor with God, is one of the most toxic beliefs a person can embrace. It’s also something that’s doing a ton of damage in our world today. You’ve met these people, they love to look at the sins of others while swimming in their own. They search the world to make a convert and when they find one, to use Jesus’ words, they “make them twice the son of Hell” that they are.
Jesus and the rest of the New Testament give ample warning about all of this, but it frequently falls on deaf ears. It feels good to think I’m right and you’re wrong. It gives me a sense of power, makes me feel like God. But it also strips away the ability to hear God, to see Him, and ironically, to do the stuff He wants us to do while avoiding the things that He truly hates.