Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)
A beggar, I stood just outside the Temple pillars where everyone kept as much distance from me as they could. Though humbling, it was from this vantage point I witnessed many acts of heart wrenching cruelty, but only one of mercy and grace.
Once honored and revered as a priest, I had taken great pride in pronouncing judgment on those who were in violation of the Law. Until the day my riches, my family and my life were stripped from me, the condition of my own heart was never called into question. No one would have dared.
I looked upon the scene before me with great interest, for I knew everyone who was gathered. They were prominent women of the city, wives of the men who were priests and elders. They had been friends of mine before I lost my place in society. So haughty, they all were, so sure of a place in Heaven because they kept the letter of the Law. There wasn’t a Scripture they didn’t know by heart. There wasn’t a precept they didn’t keep to the smallest detail. They declared themselves sinless.
My gaze rested upon the young woman, who stood with eyes downcast. Her simple garment was clean, though nearly threadbare. She stood barefoot and unadorned, a stark contrast to the finery displayed on either side of her. Elaborate gowns graced the women, who sparkled from head to foot with costly jewels. Gold chains hung from the religious ruler’s necks; rings adorned their manicured fingers. They covered the outside of their bodies in perfumed and expensive fabrics.
They had all walked past my filthy rags earlier and had each dropped a denarius into my cup. “Generous,” I remember thinking, though none of them would look me in the eye. I knew too much about them. I had been one of them. Now I was abhorred, deformed, unclean. Beauty to them was the gleam of gold, the glimmer of finery, the awe in the eyes of those who passed by and admired them.
I once had walked through the crowds with my head held high, as they did. Now I search the faces of God’s people and see a beauty of the soul I had never known before, like that of the young girl standing accused. She possessed a natural beauty that made men take a second look. Her skin was flawless, her eyes wide-set and as innocent as the deer, which roam the Judean Hills. Her lips were like a rose in full bloom. Her raven hair, long and soft with curls, glistened as it caught and held the sunlight. The simple garments she wore revealed every curve of her slender young body.
Yes, I’d noticed, like I knew my former friends had, but what I had come to see was her inner beauty, her gentleness and compassion. She had passed me earlier as well, and when she had dropped her mite into my cup, she’d looked into my eyes and smiled. That’s when I noticed the bundle in her arms, and the love she radiated as she snuggled her baby.
A sudden hush drew my attention to the man walking toward the crowd. The silence made me aware of my own heart racing with anticipation. It was the young rabbi, who, men said, possessed the ability to see past the outward façade and into the heart of mankind. Could he be the Messiah? I inched closer to hear his judgment. Facing the young girl, he tenderly lifted her chin. When he told her she was forgiven, a collective gasp shattered the silence. The rabbi turned and searched the crowd. “Which man among you has not looked upon this woman with desire?”
The shockwaves from the question caused even the stone steps beneath me to tremble.
So, it was true; he could see the lust they had tried to hide. Each man quickly turned and walked away. The women covered their faces and fled the stares of the onlookers. Not so long ago, I might have shared their embarrassment, but when the rabbi looked my way, we both nodded knowingly. My secret was forgiven; his was safe…for now.
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