The door bursts open and dust flies everywhere. Shafts of sunlight pierce into the darkness. Bearded men flow into the room, robes swirling behind them. Rough hands drag me from the bed, coarse hands yank me by my hair as my naked body falls to the floor. I try to curl into a ball to protect myself from their vicious contempt, but those unforgiving hands jerk me upright and sharp fingernails dig into the flesh on my arms. I am caught.
I can’t believe what’s happening. All the strength leaves my body and my limbs go weak as the realization of what is happening floods through me. I glance wildly around me, but I’m met only by dark piercing eyes filled with sneering contempt and disgust. Curling in on myself, I try in vain to cover my nakedness and humiliation until someone has the decency to throw a coarse woolen blanket over my shoulders. But I know it’s more for their sake than mine as I clutch it tightly around myself as if it could protect me from the accusations I know I deserve. Yet even its rough touch lacks any mercy.
They drag me to the temple and shove me to the ground in the courtyard. It’s jagged surface bites into my hands as I try to brace myself against the fall. My teeth clatter together at the force of the impact. As I struggle to my knees, I look at my palms. They’re covered in bleeding red cuts filled with tiny rocks and dirt. Then the understanding of what is going to happen hits me like a blow to the stomach. Those tiny little rocks hurt so much. But now I realize all those coarse hands that were so rough before, now hold much bigger rocks.
They are going to stone me.
Terror chokes me and I jump to my feet to flee, but those rough hands grab and crush my trembling skin to the very bone. I’m thrown back to the ground. The merciless blanket falls off. I am more alone now than ever. But there’s no time for thoughts, only pain. And shame. I pull the blanket close about my shoulders and put my hands over my head. My body tenses, waiting for the inevitable blows from the rocks that will end my miserable life. What are they waiting for? Will the first hurt the most? How long will the pain go on?
“We caught this woman in the act of adultery.” The Pharisees declare my crime before the gawking crowd. The words feel like the rocks lodged in my fresh wounds, they cut deep with the sharpness of their harsh, unapologetic truth. I can feel their eyes boring into me, and I can imagine the condemnation and disgust scrawled across their faces. If only they knew what it was like inside. But how could they see? “What does Moses say we should do?” they demand. I know the question must be rhetorical. I know the answer full well. So do they. The law has been drilled into our minds since we were children. We stone adulteresses. A twisted sense of relief floods me. I deserve this. The struggle, the pain, the guilt, the shame– it will all be over soon. Where is that first blow?
But instead of the answer I expected to hear, the sound of stone hitting flesh–my flesh–I see, or maybe more like feel, across the dust that I’m choking on… a finger. It’s of a strong, calloused hand drawing on the ground. It too is a coarse hand. But it’s work is different.
What is this? The sound. There is none. Only the blood rushing in my ears…my burning soul in its last moments. It’s like the man with this coarse hand can hear…my soul?
Finally, as the leaders, now embarrassed in such silence, stridently demand an answer, a strong gentle voice cuts through the clamor of the crowd. “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone.”
A taut silence again settles over the courtyard. Tears begin to streak down my face and blur my vision. I barely see the finger writing in the dirt again. I hold my breath, cringing, waiting for the pain to begin. And yet now I know He hears. What I hear is feet shuffling away. But I can’t bring myself to look up. The tears have unlocked the shame of a lifetime and it pours from me in a river of sobs and remorse. So many tears. The blood on my hands mingles in the cascade of sorrow falling to the ground. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. My heart weeps. But I know only He hears.
It seemed like an eternity that I wept there, laying in the dust. But when I opened my eyes there was a pair of dusty sandaled feet right in front of me. I bury my head in my hands, trying to make myself as small as possible. “Dear one, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” It is a gentle, low voice speaking. My ears hear. My soul trembles. I tentatively lift my head and look around the now empty courtyard. “No one, sir.” I hardly trust my voice.
Gathering the courage to look up at the one who spoke, my eyes travel up from the dusty feet to the coarse robe and then finally to bearded face and kind eyes of the one all of Israel has come to know as Jesus. If anyone, he is worthy to stone me. But there is no stone in His hand. With a choked sob I lower my forehead to the ground and dare to reach out my trembling fingers to touch his feet. Oh, if only to be with the tears and blood soaking into the ground.
Strong, coarse, but gentle hands grasp my shoulders and lift me to my feet. My eyes remain fixed on the ground until he lifts my chin and my gaze locks with that of the purest man in history, the One who hears my soul. I see myself reflected in his knowing brown eyes. But it’s not the dirty, tear-streaked, naked adulteress I see there. In his eyes I see the truth of who I am, a broken but beautiful woman, valuable and precious, worth him dying for. In his eyes I see love. “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and stop sinning.”
*Disclaimer: While this word painting is based off of John 8:1-11 and inspired in part by this video, the backstory and some other aspects of this piece are from my imagination and simply reflect my emotional response to this story in my life. This is in no way meant to replace, change or improve upon the original Bible story, but to vividly “paint with words” what it might have been like for the woman who looked into Jesus’ eyes and saw love instead of judgement.