Author's Note: I've always been intrigued by the story from John 8 of the woman taken in adultery. This is my take on it. Comments welcome.
I've tried everything I know, but I can't seem to get the html tags to work to italicize some words. So, I've used a * in the place for italics.
The last thing Samuel said to me before we fell asleep in each other's arms was that no one would ever know of our adultery. I believed him; why shouldn't I? We had been with each other for almost a year now, and no one in either of our families suspected a thing. I also believed him when he told me he loved me. His warm kisses and rich gifts seemed to make any doubt of his claims ludicrous.
Samuel had grown careless, though, and I was fool enough to allow it. For the first time since he had caught my eye in the marketplace, I found myself in his bed---his marriage bed. That cold stick of a wife he had was visiting her mother in Bethany, and he had spent the better part of an hour kissing away the doubts I had about returning with him to his house. I should never have listened to him, should have known that even though he loathed his wife, there were others in their household who did not share his sympathies. But I was too caught up in *him* to even notice the eyes that watched our every move. I was a fool, over and over.
It was a cool summer morning, and I had just slipped into a costly silk chemise, and back into Samuel's arms, when the door to the bedchamber suddenly burst open. I looked over my shoulder and was horrified to find one of the chief priests and a captain of the temple standing at the foot of the bed, shadowed by a contingent of armed men that trailed out into the antechamber. My horror, though, quickly turned to fear as I realized what this meant. We had been caught, and the law was unflinching in its judgment.
I turned back to Samuel to comfort him as best I could, the reality of our situation not having fully settled on me, yet, only to see the fear in his own eyes turn to hate. He practically threw me from his arms.
"Shameless whore!" he snarled, and turned to the men before they could condemn him along with me. "She deceived me! In the still of night, she came to my bed, pretending to be my wife returned from Bethany. She seduced me!" He turned back to me, contempt dripping from his eyes like tears. "She is a demon from hell, and should be sent back to where she came from."
There was a heavy pause in the room, pressing down upon me with such force I couldn't draw breath for the utter shock of his words. The chief priest and the captain exchanged a knowing glance, sensible to his lies. But Samuel's standing in the community was such that they could choose to believe him if they wanted to. And they knew that he would make it worth their while to want to.
As for me, I could only stare at Samuel, unable to comprehend his betrayal. "Samuel," I whispered in confusion, holding my hand out to him. Surely this was some mistake.
He looked at my hand as though it were covered with leprous sores, and then reached out and slapped me across the face, the jolt snapping my head back with such force, I fell off the edge of the bed and found myself face down on the floor. I drew in a shaky breath, the physical pain clearing my mind of any romantic fancy that had stubbornly clung to it. He had betrayed and abandoned me to save himself. I blinked back tears and lifted my head to look at him through a world of hurt. Moments earlier, he was whispering promises of undying love. And now this?
A trace of emotion flickered in his eyes, but he quickly extinguished it. "Take this devil's whore away," he commanded in disgust.
The chief priest looked at the captain, and gave an almost imperceptible nod.
"Take her," the captain ordered, and two men broke from the ranks to cross the room and pull me off the floor. I was too numb from the blow of Samuel's betrayal to resist them. They shoved me forward, past the chief priest and captain, into the midst of their ranks. Before they led me out of the room, though, I turned to look once more at the man I loved, hoping for a sudden reprieve . . . a recanting . . . *anything* to show me that, even though I was going to my death, I hadn't given my heart---my very life, now---to a lie; that my love wasn't in vain, and that he wasn't the traitor he was pretending to be. I looked in his eyes, searching . . . and saw a stranger staring back at me. My hope, and the fantasy I had entertained, dissolved in my eyes and silently overflowed. I brushed both away, turned my back on him forever, and steeled myself for what was to come.
It wasn't until I was outside, and felt the sting of the sharp stones under my feet that I consciously realized my state of undress. My cheeks burned with shame. It was bad enough to be dragged condemned through the streets of Jerusalem in a public spectacle, but in such a state as I was, it would be all the worse. And when the spectacle was over, when the Roman authorities agreed to allow the Temple leaders to do as they pleased (and why wouldn't they?), there would be piles of stones waiting for me---stones bloodied with the condemnation of others who had been careless enough to fall in love with a lie. I shivered in spite of the warm sun, and ignored the stares of the household servants as I was pushed onward, both those of pity and the ones of contempt. Nothing could save me now.
The chief priest and the captain led the way down the streets, which were just beginning to bustle with the day's activities. Those who were still abed quickly hastened to their windows when they heard our procession in order to view for themselves the day's entertainment. I despised their curiosity, but I couldn't blame them for it. Hadn't I done the same myself countless times before? The murmurings that rippled throughout the crowds as we walked grew louder with each painful step I took, but I stared at the back of the captain's head and ignored the insults and slurs they threw at me. They may wring from me every drop of blood that I had, but I silently swore that I would not shed one tear; would not lay my broken heart out for all the world to see and scorn, no matter what.
I took shelter from the slurs in the comfort of my own thoughts, though there was precious little comfort to be found there. I was going to die. Nineteen, and I was a dead woman walking down the streets of Jerusalem. How had this happened? It was never supposed to be this way. *I* was never supposed to be this way. Barely a year ago, though it seemed an eternity, things had been so different. *I* had been so different--so much so that I now found myself looking into the eyes of a stranger whenever I caught a glimpse of myself in a polished bronze. I never knew back then how a person's whole life could change in the space of a heartbeat.
But it can.
I remembered the precise moment that my life had changed as though it were upon me as I thought of it. It was a warm summer's evening, though there had been clouds aplenty floating across the sky to provide relief from the hot sun during the day. I had just drawn the final pitcher of water from the well when I turned to see my father standing there. I had started to smile a greeting, but then I met his eyes, eyes full of disbelief and a sick kind of horror one never hopes to see, and deep inside, I knew. Even before he opened his mouth, I knew.
Joseph was dead.
Three days until our wedding, and now . . ..
We rounded a corner and the Temple came into view, invading my thoughts, turning them in a different bent, though one of the same course. It was an impressive structure, one that I used to love more than anything, but one I hadn't come near since Joseph had fallen from his father's rooftop. And all of the anger I had held in since that moment at the well came flooding to the surface, filled my eyes, and streamed down my cheeks.
*Why?!* I silently screamed with all my soul as I stared at the house of God. For the first time since Joseph's death, I consciously voiced the bitterness that had consumed my soul. *How could You do this to me?!* I wished that I could be as our father Jacob had been, and physically wrestle with God, and not just shout at Him in vain, for I knew enough of the Scriptures to know that, in light of my sin, He was not listening to me, a fact that served only to anger me more.
The Temple loomed closer, dark and forbidding, reflecting the very face of God to me, and by the time we reached it, there was quite a throng of people in the procession, and the noise drew the attention of some of the scribes and Pharisees who had gathered together at the steps. They were deep in conversation, but upon seeing the crowd, they immediately disbanded and came over.
"What is the meaning of this?" one of them asked, looking me over with disdain. "Why is this woman so shamefully dressed?"
"She is an adulteress," the chief priest replied, "caught in the very act of her sin. The law is quite explicit as to what is to be done with her. We are on our way to the Roman authorities right now."
"Of course, of course," the Pharisee replied, and started to turn away, his mind quite clearly focused on other things. He abruptly stopped, however, and a pensive expression came over his features. "However---" he began, turning back, much to the confusion of his fellow religious leaders, and especially the chief priest.
"Surely you would not consider letting her go?" the chief priest asked.
"No, not at all," he replied. "But would you be willing to forgo her punishment for a few moments in the interests of . . . the law?"
He cast a sidelong glance at the other Pharisees and scribes, who seemed to instantly take his meaning. They began to smile among themselves, and I got the distinct feeling that I was not the only one who would be caught in the law's trap that day, and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for the poor soul who was probably completely unaware of what was about to happen.
"I don't understand," the chief priest said.
The Pharisee stepped in closer to him, his voice low with contempt. "*He* is in the temple, teaching again."
* He?* I wondered. * He who?*
The chief priest's face darkened with a scowl. Whoever this person was, it was quite evident that they hated him. "What do you suggest?" he asked.
"Bring her in," the Pharisee said. "Ask * him* what he thinks should be done with her, if we should stone her. If he says yes, he violates Roman law. If he says no, he violates Moses' law. Either way, we will have evidence by which to accuse him before the Council."
The chief priest's eyes lit up. "Excellent! Perhaps we can finally rid ourselves of this menace, this * Jesus.*"
Jesus? The name captured my attention and made me forget my own problems for a moment. Jesus' name was spoken in my family on almost a daily basis. I had never seen him, but he had healed my father's brother's grandson. Little Simon had been born blind, with no hope of ever gaining his sight. Simon had just turned five when word of miraculous healings began to spread throughout the countryside. Most of my family thought it was all nonsense, but my cousin, Nathaniel, had taken his son and followed the crowds one day. When he came back later that evening, we couldn't believe it. Simon could see. He could actually see. His eyes were as normal and healthy as ours. The very next day, he was outside, running and playing with the other children as though he'd had his sight from birth. Jesus was a man from God, Nathaniel had said, and I had always hoped to meet him. I had never thought it would be like this.
The scribes and the Pharisees pushed me up the Temple steps and into the Outer Court. It felt good to be standing on the cool, smooth stone after walking over the rough gravel, and in the pause at the top of the steps, I became fully conscious of the pain in my feet. I looked down to see bloody footprints trailing in my wake, a precursor of sorts for what lay ahead.
In the silence of the pause, I heard a single voice, and looked out over the masses of people who had gathered at the Temple. Their attention was focused on the middle of the court, and though I couldn't see Jesus, the Pharisees soon rectified that situation.
"Make way!" they called, pushing through the throngs of people, dragging me with them. The people gave way to our procession, and a low murmur ran through the crowd as they caught sight of me. I tried to ignore the comments, feeling my face burn with shame, but I couldn't suppress my anger. Let * them* live my life, and see if they wouldn't have made the same choices!
We finally broke through the people into a little clearing, and I found myself shoved to the front of our entourage. I stumbled a bit, but managed to keep myself from falling. When I finally straightened, my feet throbbing, I looked across the clearing, where the attention of the crowd was focused on a man who was sitting there. It was Jesus, and he didn't seem the least upset at the disturbance. He took a moment to glance over the Temple leaders, and I took advantage of that time to look at him. He wasn't much to look at, and I found I was slightly disappointed. From Nathaniel's account of his power, I was expecting something . . . more. One would have thought that God would have packaged His prophets more attractively.
And then he looked at * me.*
I felt my breath catch in my throat as his eyes held mine. He seemed to look through me, past my eyes, to the very depths of my heart. I got the distinct sense that he could tell my thoughts, every one of them, and I quickly looked away.
"Teacher," the Pharisee said, "this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act."
The murmurs of the crowd intensified, calling for judgment, and my first inclination was to shrink away into myself. But my anger was aroused; it would not be quelled, and I realized that I did not want it to be. Lifting my eyes, I boldly met Jesus'. If he was a man of God, and if he could tell my thoughts, then let him do so if he pleased. Let him tell God everything I was thinking and feeling. What did it matter? I was going to die, and God had turned His face from me. Why should I care, then, if he told God that I blamed Him for Joseph's death? It was only the truth, and it felt good to finally express it. What did I have to lose now?
But my lofty designs were short-lived, as I could not meet his gaze for long. There was something intense now, almost terrifying, in his eyes, and I felt as though I should fall to my knees at his feet. Perhaps it was the Temple atmosphere, but only a fear of God had evoked such a feeling in me before. Admittedly, it had been a long time since I had felt that way, but I hadn't forgotten it. I could never forget it.
Who * was* this man?
The Pharisee continued. "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us to stone such as she. But what do * you* say?"
My anger suddenly shifted to the Temple leaders for what they were doing, trying to trap Jesus like this. He may have been a prophet from God, with whom I was angry, but I felt a surge of pity for him, and found the courage to raise my eyes to look at him once more. I was slightly startled to find him looking at me instead of at the leaders. I tried to warn him with a glance. Couldn't he see what the Pharisee was trying to do? He didn't seem the slightest bit concerned, though, and I wasn't even sure if he had heard the Pharisee, as he only stooped over and wrote something on the ground.
The Temple leaders looked amongst themselves in confusion. They asked him a second time, and then a third, until there wasn't a person in the court who * wasn't* confused at his lack of response, myself included. Finally, he looked up from his task, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her." And without even waiting to gauge their reaction, he went back to his writing.
What did * that* mean? Was he telling them to stone me, or to let me go?
The silence that fell upon the people, including the Temple leaders, was deafening. And then, one by one, people in the crowd began to turn and leave, pushing their way through the masses towards the street. Those closest to me seemed shamed and hung their heads as they left. For my part, I couldn't move. I could only stand and stare down at Jesus and wonder. Who * was* he? He spoke with an authority that even the Temple leaders didn't possess. I couldn't tear my eyes from him until he suddenly stopped writing and stood up. He looked around, and I let my eyes follow his.
There was no one there, not even the Temple leaders. The court was empty, save for the two of us. I felt relieved, but then suddenly afraid, and I instinctively knew that of all the people who had been in the court, he * did* have the right to cast a stone at me. More than this, I was certain that * he* knew it as well. The terrifying feeling I had felt before returned full force, and with it, the knowledge that he was more than just a man, that the holy terror I felt was rightly placed. I suppressed a tremble as he turned to me.
"Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?"
I shook my head and swallowed hard, searching for my voice. "No one, Lord," I managed to whisper, but my heart beat fast. It was as though God Himself was standing before me, and there was no place I could hide.
He looked at me for a long moment. "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more."
I was free. I almost couldn't believe it. But as though his words themselves were a key to the secrets of my innermost heart, I suddenly realized what I had become. I saw, for the first time, how far I had fallen, and my elation drifted away like smoke in the wind. I saw how angry I had been, unable to forgive God for taking my Joseph from me, choosing the bed of a married man as the means of punishing Him for what He did---all the while unaware that I was only punishing myself. I thought I loved Samuel, that I was happy with him, but I knew now that he was not the only one who had lied to me. I had lied to myself.
I fell to my knees and burst into tears. In that moment, I saw myself as I was, and could not bear to look upon it. I may have been free in the eyes of the law, but I was still a slave to all that was within me, and I could never run far enough to escape myself.
I wanted more than anything to go back, back before any of this had happened, back to when I loved Him and His house, and I wanted to die there, with Joseph. * Why couldn't I have just died with Joseph and never have become what I am?* I cried out in my heart, and in the silhouette of the Temple walls, my anger against God, thinking I could hurt Him in turn, only mocked me now.
There was a soft touch on my feet, and immediately, the throbbing pain ceased. I turned my head to find that Jesus had knelt beside me, and I followed his gaze down to my feet. They were perfectly healed. Even the childhood scar on my right foot that I had acquired after accidentally stepping on an axe was gone.
Without a word, he rose and crossed the Outer Court, following in the wake of the crowds, leaving me alone with my sin in the shadow of the face of God. I felt my heart break all over again as I considered my transgression. I was as lost as a boat in a storm. Even if I * could* find my way back to God, would He even want me?
Tears fell from my lashes to the dirt below, and it was only as I watched the dust absorb my sorrow that I noticed the markings there-- * his* markings. They drew me from my thoughts, and I was suddenly thankful that my father had insisted that *all* his children, even his daughters, learn how to read. What had once seemed to me a waste of time now became precious in my sight. I wiped away my tears and studied the distinctive trails his finger had traced in the dust.
*I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for my anger is turned away from him.*
The words belonged to the prophet Hosea, and I heard myself softly gasp as I read them. Did he write this for me? Was this truly reflective of God's thoughts toward me? A hope I dared not allow myself to feel bloomed in my heart.
Trembling, I glanced up at his retreating form. At that moment, he paused and looked back at me; I could see eternity in his eyes, warm and inviting, and with a joyful cry, my heart threw itself into His arms and at His feet. At long last, I had found the love I had been seeking for so long; the love for which I was created; the truest love I could ever know. I felt as if I had come home.
Sudden tears blurred the image of His figure, but I did not hesitate. I rose from my knees and followed Him.