Lines in the Sand


Sheena Koops

Imagine. You have made a mistake. Maybe you’ve made this mistake over and over, but this time, you’ve been caught. You are being escorted into a public space, a circle of those who hold the most power and the most respect in your community. They are listening to an outsider, a newcomer, and you recognize this guy. He’s the one making a buzz from coffee row to the hair salon. Many people don’t know what to make of him. Some really get what he’s serving up. Others think he’s the devil himself.

Well, here you are. Tossed into this circle. Your mistake is named. Your judgement is a no-brainer, and you’re no dummy. You get why you’ve been brought here. You’re the test case, being used to trap this young guru, to see if he really deserves the respect some are giving him. You’re being used. Maybe it’s not the first time you’ve felt used, but that’s another story.

You hang your head, ready for your life – as you know it – to be over.

But then, the circle quiets. Even though you’re shaking and you feel sick to your stomach, your curiosity makes you look up. That young guy, the one who is supposed to throw the judgement at you, he’s drawing in the sand with his finger. If you were a little closer, you could see what he’s writing.

Then the people who brought you here, they name your mistake again, ask more questions from the young teacher, and now it seems it’s not really about you, but it’s like they’re testing the one they call Jesus, but he just keeps doodling, all hunched over.

Finally, he straightens up. He says something like, “Okay you guys, go ahead and throw your judgement at her,” and then he pauses. “But only if you have never made a mistake.”

And it’s like he has flipped on a reading light in a dark room, and everyone in that circle is an open book, just as exposed as you are. People look from one to another, and then an elder, he looks at you, lowers his eyes, and leaves the circle. One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, people turn and walk away.

You look at the teacher and he looks at you. You walk closer, there is no turning your back. You’ve got to see what he was writing on the ground, but before you look down, he says, “Where did they all go? Has no one condemned you?” He is speaking seriously, but you know that he knows you’re smart, and you are catching all his irony.

He sends you off to make a fresh start. Both of you passed your tests.

Imagine. You are telling me your story, and it is making me think of another I’ve heard from the First Peoples of my area. Elder Mike Pinay from Peepeekisis First Nation said that in the old days, the Grandmothers were the police. They were responsible for justice within the community. The people who were the oldest and loved the most would work together to bring harmony to the community. But, boy, they were tough, too. He told us. You didn’t want to be in trouble with the grandmothers.

Your Jesus story and Elder Mike’s story reminds me of a word that my friend, Dr. Martin Ravelo has taught me, “epieikeia”, which is Greek for a “justice-beyond-justice”, a “kind justice” or “sweet reasonableness” which allows for a relaxing of the letter of the law so that the spirit of the law can live and breathe.

I really wish you had looked down to see what Jesus had been writing in the sand, but I guess you were pretty glad to just get out of there in one piece. Wouldn’t it be cool if Jesus had written, “What would your grandmother think if she saw you picking up that stone?” or maybe He wrote “epieikeia”. Either way, this sweet justice has captured my imagination, and that’s a line in the sand I’d like to draw.

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