Her hair kissed the ground as she fell. The rough shove sent her sprawling at the feet of the man seated by the marble steps. But he didn’t move. It was as if he did not mind even if she fell on him.
She didn’t. Her hair did. But she was too tired to gather up her locks now covering his feet. She had no more place to run. Pushed to the ground, cornered, trapped, she felt her sobs of despair shake her bare shoulders. Her hand crawled down to try to pull the sheet she was wrapped in to cover her almost exposed breasts. It was a wonder how she managed to keep it around her as she ran from the mob shouting out her sin:
But she didn’t understand why they brought her to this man. From the short glimpse she caught of him before she fell at his feet, she knew he was not the high priest. He was no priest. She dared to peek, but could only see his feet. The sandals were not new, and had been in much use, as if they’d been walking for years.
“Teacher,” a voice said. “This woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act!”
Her sobs stilled when she heard it. Teacher! This was the Teacher people had been talking about! The one who healed the sick, fed the thousands, cast out demons. People were in greater awe of him than of the priests and pharisees, and told of stories of how he would heal on the sabbath right in front of the religious leaders.
But those were sick people. She was different. She was a sinner. An adulteress. It was not for healing that they had brought her to him in her shame.
The law of Moses says such a woman should be stoned,” the voice went on. “What do you say?”
Instinctively she braced herself for the judgment to come. The silence was deafening, for even her breathing had stopped. She wondered who…
The gentle rustling stopped her thoughts. She saw a hand reach down to the ground. Her eyes followed it. To her amazement, a finger stretched out and started writing.
She couldn’t see all he was doing. But she felt the atmosphere changing. The angry judgment towards her had turned to shock then impatience as the Teacher kept moving his finger on the ground.
“What do you say, Teacher?” the voice asked again, the tone of mockery unmistakable. The rest of the mob picked up the question, with many other insulting words about her that she could understand.
The finger stopped, and again she prepared herself. The murmuring stopped as well, so that when the Teacher spoke, his voice rang clear. She had never heard a more beautiful sound.
Or a more shocking answer.
“Whoever of you has no sin, let him throw the first stone.”
Everything became still. No one seemed able to move, or even breathe. Then she heard the sound of rustling feet. Deep, angry sighs made her cower, but no one came to grab her to bring her to the stoning place. Finally, after what seemed like forever, even the shuffling sound stopped.
She lifted her head and was surprised to see the finger moving over the ground again, as though writing. Then, as if sensing her attention, it stopped. And the Teacher asked:
“Woman, where are your accusers?”
She gathered her hair, and pulled up the sheet around herself as she raised her head to look around. The temple courtyard was empty, except for the Teacher and some men gathered behind him.
“Has no one condemned you?”
She sat up slowly, and her long brown hair fell and covered her shoulders. The men with the Teacher were not looking at her, not in disgust, but in what seemed like embarrassment. With a little difficulty, she pulled the sheet up around her shoulders and wrapped it around herself as tightly as she could.
Finally, her eyes turned to the face of the Teacher. Whatever she was expecting, she did not quite know, but she certainly didn’t expect the direct gaze of his eyes into hers. He was not angry…at least, it didn’t seem like he was angry with her.
There was no pity, no condescension, no disgust. She stared back uncomprehendingly at his eyes, willing herself to believe what she saw in them.
Concern…fire…sadness…but no judgment?
“No one, sir,” she finally said softly, and as she heard his answer, she could see the truth of it in his eyes.
“I do not condemn you either,” said the Teacher. “Go.”
She moved her legs slowly to stand, making sure that the sheet stayed securely around her.
“And sin no more.”
She looked back at him, expecting to see mockery, but found none. Instead there was a smile and a confidence, as if he knew she would be able to obey that command. Sin no more? Was he…no. No, he wasn’t mocking her.
She got back down on her knees and bowed low before him. With her hands holding the sheet, she was not able to stop her hair brushing against his feet, but again he didn’t move them aside. His acceptance of this contact wrenched repentant and grateful tears from deep inside. Her sorrow for what she had wasted came out in a deep sob that shook her so that her tears splashed on his feet. She hurriedly wiped them away with her hair, and scrambled to stand.