Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

A writer’s most important words

The Turin Shroud and the Holy Grail top the list of famous religious relics, but I’m more interested in the End Table of Nazareth. Maybe there’s a piece of ancient household furniture out there somewhere with Jesus’ carpentry notations on the underside.

It’s long been curious to me that the person about whom more words have been written than anyone in history didn’t leave a physical record of any of His own. Did He scribble to-do lists and tuck them in His robe (“Wedding, Saturday, Cana.” “Talk to James and John about dialing it down a bit.”)?

There’s been much speculation about the one occasion His writing is noted in the Bible, in the story of the woman caught in adultery. What did He scratch in the dirt?

Some believe that He may have named the accusers. Since they probably hadn’t met Jesus, it would have likely caused them to fear what else He knew about them. Others suggest it was the names of those with whom the accusers had themselves sinned sexually.

I wonder whether perhaps He was echoing the other occasion in scripture in which God writes, etching the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone for Moses (Exodus 34:1). Maybe as Jesus reproduced the list, the convenors of the kangaroo court realized they had charges of their own to face, and so slunk away.

Either way, given our propensity for getting sidetracked by peripheral things, perhaps it’s just as well we have no scraps of Jesus’ writing to hang up or get hung up on. We’d probably scrutinize and analyze His script and end up with The First Church of the Elongated T, or The Full Gospel Assembly of the Right-Slanting Character. It would bring a whole new meaning to “baptismal font.”

But there is some takeaway in all this for writers who see their craft as a calling. It’s easy to start with modest motives only to get seduced by celebrity. Recognition in the form of big sales, glowing reviews, and prestigious trophies is nice, but it is only one measure of value.

Sometimes we can confuse our call to write with a promise that we will be published and read. But the first doesn’t automatically mean the second. There are times when God has us write not for others, but so that we learn things about Him and ourselves in the process.

At the end of the day, what’s most important—the words we leave behind on pages? Or, those that may be unrecorded, but leave deep impressions in people’s hearts? Our most valuable words might be those that few ever see—like woodworking marks underneath a piece of plain furniture. And then there are many people who may never read our prose, but they do read our lives.

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