Cries of outrage accompany the lurid interest of passer-bys who press in to witness another confrontation between this man, Jesus, and the Pharisees. I stand among the tight circle of men on the temple steps surrounding the downcast woman. She cowers, bleeding hands and knees pressed into the gritty sand, writhing in humiliation and paralyzed by fear of impending judgement.
The Pharisees gloat at their fortune to have caught her in the act of adultery. Who could come against their testimony? Had not the law been written by the hand of God? Would not the writing of the Law of God stand? They had brought her forth, this woman who committed a wicked thing and for her act, the writings call for a stoning .. a death.
My fingers flex around the hard stone, uncertain to clinch or place it back on the ground.
The woman is not unfamiliar to me. Long ago, during a childhood of unhurried thoughts and unfettered dreams, we ran through the streets of Jerusalem. She confided her desire to learn to read the scrolls and to write her ideas of God on parchment. I was in the midst of my education at Temple school. Girls were prohibited, so I agreed to teach her. Our meetings were secret, held in darkened street ends or underground burrows within the walls of the city. She was inquisitive and eager to learn. I knew we were disobedient in our endeavor; she, by stepping outside cultural limits for women; me, in aiding her reading and writing.
Our secret “teaching” sessions ended as we grew into young adulthood. Responsibilities mounted with the marriage my parents had settled for me. She married by arrangement as well. Years passed before I saw her again. She was watching a cluster of women gathered around a well. They were chatting and laughing as they filled their jugs. She stood behind a wall and waited until they slowly left in pairs or groups of three, still socializing as they walked towards home. Only then did she move towards the well to collect water. I called her name and went to meet her. Her eyes never looked up and she gave an affect of deep disillusion, a down-trodden existence. We talked about our lives. She had not found favor with her husband, his written document of divorce stating lack of submission and discovery of written parchments by her own hand.
“My parents are through with me and the women do not desire my company. I have to make my own way ,” she explained, haltingly measuring her words. I found my way with her in the coming months, as did others.
Now, on the Temple steps, she awaits judgement. I know the law. It is as she deserves. My eyes shift away from her public shame and focus instead on the face of Jesus. The Pharisees have presented him with her case of adultery. If he objects the consequence for such a sin, the law has been written, stone unto death the one who disagrees.
Stone held loosely in my hand, I await a response from Jesus.
Slowly he crouches to the ground and sits on the heels of his sandals. His hand touches the dirt as he runs his fingertips across the texture of sand, moving in circles and forming shapes. The taunting din subsides and the winds still as the crowd becomes memorized. Shapes turn to letters; he is writing words and phrases. The Pharisees bend to catch a glimpse and stare with disbelief . The woman sways backwards and looks in shock at the words in the sand. Suddenly Jesus stands and pronounces “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
I step back from the circle. The writing, combined with the words Jesus speak effect me profoundly and expose my own guilt.
Once again he begins to write. Names! Could it be? Yes, mine is among them!
One by one stones drop and the self-righteous depart. My eyes meet his. Deep pools of burning passion and tender compassion alternate and then intermingle in the eyes of Christ and dissolve my flesh. My bones dismantle and it is as if my heart and soul stand in solitude before Him and cry out in prayer.
He erases the writing in the sand and my sins with it. I let loose my rock, turn and walk with Him, leaving the all behind.
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