A distinctly male voice resonated in the stuffy air of the crowded temple where there was room enough to stand. A commotion near the back of the room silenced the speaker, and all heads turned towards the ones responsible for the interruption as they made their way to the front.
Several men flanked a desperate woman, crying, pleading with her captors. She was in a pitiable state, clothes arranged in haste, hair disheveled, veiling puffy, red eyes. But there was no pity extended her as the men forced the woman to her knees in the throng’s midst and addressed the man at the front of the room.
“Master!” cried one, “This woman was taken in adultery, in the very act!”
In a theatrical flourish that played to the emotions of the crowd, he described how they caught her that very morning, not minutes before, with her lover.
Gasps echoed throughout the room and eyes of contempt fixed themselves on the crumpled, weeping body lying in the midst of them.
“Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned:” another man shouted with growing enthusiasm above the buzzing murmur, “but what sayest thou?”
The trembling woman wept at his words. Her guilt was not on trial; caught in the very act of her sin, she had already sealed her fate. The murmurings and shouts rose like a deafening wave of malice as she shivered in her fear on the dusty marble beneath her. She could no more make out their words than they could her despondency.
Then, as furious as it rose, the collective voice ebbed until an unusual silence was all one could hear above the weakened whimpers of the only woman in the room.
Through blurred vision, she made out the shape of a man kneeling before her. She withdrew but there was nowhere to go, the crowd could have suffocated her the way they pressed in to catch every word.
A single voice spoke; clear and with authority. His was not like the others. There was no hatred there, no accusation. If she were in the right state of mind, she might have even mistaken it as loving.
With surroundings reeling and her grip on reality slipping with the certainty of death, this voice calmed her. Even as she struggled against its meaning, she found herself leaning into the warmth of its embrace.
With a sudden jolt of surprise, she saw through burning eyes, the figures of men silently turning from their huddled group and leaving the temple. Then, one by one, her accusers with their iron grips slipped from her side and vanished with the others.
Within moments, there was no one left of the men gathered there, save one.
Who was this man who held such influence as to dissipate a crowd thirsty for blood? No longer trembling, she searched his face for signs of recognition, but she did not know him. How was this possible?
She watched him with bated breath as he wrote upon the sand with a calloused finger, oblivious to the words it made. She watched but dared not speak.
He raised his eyes and met hers. In that moment, he saw through to her soul and there was nothing left to hide. If he’d asked, she would have borne all. No man ever looked at her like this man.
“Woman, where are those thine accusers?” his question was gentle, kind. “Hath no man condemned thee?”
Fresh tears filled her eyes. “No, man, Lord.”
He stood and, lifting her to her feet, said, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.”
Sometimes, when I read John 8, I play this out in my mind. I imagine what it would have been like to be caught in an act punishable-by-death. And I wonder how it might have felt to feel the anger and disgust in those men’s hands as they took me up and whisked me away to put me on display in a crowded room.
And I ask myself, what thoughts might have entered my mind as they chanted the verdict of my punishment? How empty would I have felt knowing no man cared for my soul?
If I’m in true, empathetic form, my heart will race and my breath will catch in my throat and I can mentally witness a sliver of what took place that day.
But no matter how little I try, when I get to the part where Jesus steps in, I’m swept away. And I find my heart aching, wishing to have been that woman, to have felt the love and forgiveness that she felt in that moment.
For someone who is not dramatic and rarely outwardly emotional, this brings me to tears every time. Every time.
Until one day, I came to realize something. I AM that woman.
And so are you.
Regardless of where we came from, we have all stood in the midst of the temple with the Accuser himself condemning us to death. If we have trusted Christ as our Savior then we, too, have had that moment of shame met with love and forgiveness.
The only man able to cast the first stone has refused to condemn us. We have been on the selling block and although the devil bid high, Jesus bid higher.
Too often we see ourselves through the eyes of the accuser. We feel unworthy. The devil is a master recorder and knows all the dirt on us, enough to bury us alive. And the truth of the matter is, we ARE unworthy.
We are unworthy to EARN His love. We could live a million lifetimes and never earn it. But that’s the point. It was never about whether or not we are worthy.
The point is, if we look through the eyes of Jesus, we will see an unconditional love our human brains cannot comprehend. We will see a tenderness that would soften any heart and a desire for closeness that no man could refuse.
To Him, even in our lowliness, we are beautiful. I cannot understand that. But I don’t have to. I just have to accept it. As best as I can.
And I for one, plan to spend the rest of my life loving Him in return.
*This post was first published in the Christian Womanhood Magazine