She hated herself, almost as much as she hated him. She had not always been the hating type. She had once been gentle and kind, but life had not been gentle and kind to her. Today, she hated that she had followed one more time. She had followed her fear, instead of her heart, and she had followed this man into this room, because of another set of empty promises, and smooth words. But all the kindness went away as soon as she had consented.
Once he had heard her “yes” he looked at her differently. Suddenly his touch was not so much about her, as it was about him. He became rough with her as he led her into the back room. Moments ago, he had seemed so attentive, and almost thoughtful. It had all shifted when she nodded her head to his proposition. It was clear that when their encounter ended she would never see him again. That’s not what his words said earlier, but his actions and tone spoke louder than his words ever had.
He began roughly pulling at her clothing, and bodily moving her into a position of submission and weakness. She gave in, her heart breaking again into little pieces as she silently refused to stand up for herself. Her body and her heart were dying hundreds of tiny deaths, and she choked back everything that was true about herself. How had she ended up here again? But she knew the role she was supposed to play, and she gave in to the actress who had betrayed her before.
This painfully familiar scene had played out before, and here she was again. Each act was familiar, and she knew her lines all too well.
Suddenly it all shifted. Light broke into the darkness of the room, and loud voices accompanied the crashing of the door as a group of men broke into the room, each one speaking, shouting. Oh no, please God! What was happening now? This was not part of the act. Things were quickly getting out of control.
A group of men surrounded the two of them while they were yet partially dressed. Hands grabbed at them both, shouting insults and orders. These were older men, and they were dressed in strange clothes. Was that the robe of a priest on the man standing in the corner? Wait, all of them were dressed in religious robes and garments. Some were quoting scripture passages, with venom in their voices. Who were they and what were they doing here?
One of the men grabbed the man who moments ago had been grabbing at her. He pulled the man close and began to speak gruffly into his ear. He pushed the man away, and he began to run. He ran out the door and quickly disappeared.
Now she was alone with these men. All strangers, all dressed in the religious attire of her people. She glanced up occasionally. She saw their eyes; none of them were friendly, none of them were kind. In their eyes was death, and it fed the slow death that had already been eating at her soul. Some looked at her with scorn. Some looked at her in her partially dressed state, and she could see that look that men have when they look at her, a mixture of lust and contempt. She looked at their eyes, but couldn’t bear it for long. The look in their eyes made her feel so small and weak.
She heard their conversation, but their words didn’t make sense to her.
“Where is he now?” one asked.
“I understand he is nearby. Someone said they saw him in town just a few hours ago,” another murmured.
Clearly they were not referring to the man they had just sent fleeing into the sunlight, but she had no idea who they were discussing. It seemed their conversation was in many ways more about this man than about her, but who? She would soon find out, because several of them grabbed her and began to drag her out of the house.
“Oh please God,” she thought to herself, “please allow me to at least cover up! I can’t go out there half uncovered like this.” But she didn’t dare speak. These men clearly intended harm. She knew that the law of her day gave them the right to kill her. Not just kill her, but to pummel her with stones until she died. Could this be why they had broken in? To kill her? Was the man they were talking about the one who would have power over her life or death? Fear shot up into her throat. The shame she was feeling already was swallowed up in the sudden realization that she could die today. She began to think to herself that maybe she deserved it.
She was aware that they were approaching a great crowd, and the men pushed their way through. Her fear and shame was magnified as the multitude began to turn and notice her. At the center of the crowd was a man. This seemed to be where they were taking her.
They threw her at his feet, and the dread began to choke her like a hand around her throat. She saw a pair of sandals and the strong legs of the man, but she dared not look up. They began again to hurl accusations at her and quote the law. This was it. They had brought her here to die. The rage and anger in all the voices was tangible; she could feel the weight of it. They wanted her dead. Their voices had death in them.
“Master,” they finished. “The Law says she should die. What do you say?”
They finished speaking and the silence hung heavy in the air. The crowd murmured uneasily. All the eyes turned toward this man. She was certain that he was the one who would decide her fate today. She was afraid; no, terrified, but she had to look up. She had to see who this man who held her life in His hands.
With what might be her last ounce of courage she looked up into the face of her judge, and her breathing stopped. Like the other men’s eyes, His gaze was a shock to her system, but for a completely different reason. He was looking at her. He was not looking at her body, He was not looking at her nakedness and shame. He was looking right back into her eyes, and she was seized by the stark awareness that He saw her. She wanted to hide again, but this time because she felt that He could see right through her. She felt that He could see every dark corner of her heart, and His gaze never wavered.
But even that was not the thing that seized her. The thing that paralyzed her lungs and her heart was not the intensity of His gaze, it was the fierce and piercing kindness with which He looked at her.
She was half-dressed, fresh from the bedroom of a stranger. She had been thrown roughly into this public square, and her story laid out for her neighbors and these strangers to hear. He could see in her heart every bit of the hatred; the fear, the loathing of herself and others. And He…well… He…He loved her. She could feel it, and this made her squirm even more than the shame she had felt. At least the shame was something she felt she deserved; but this?
“Well, Jesus, what do you say?” a gruff voice pushed again.
Jesus? Oh no, Jesus! This was not just a man, this was the Man. This was the man that the entire countryside had been talking about. Not just a man, but many said He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Now she had to look away. The fierceness and intensity of the sheer love in His eye had overwhelmed her; and now, what if this was God she was looking at? Her eyes fell.
And then He knelt. In front of her, God got on His knees. He moved towards her and not away. He lowered Himself to the ground where she lay in guilt and dirt. His silence was terrifying but His nearness was somehow comforting. He breathed deeply. She thought she saw a drop of water hit the ground. A tear?
A long and weighty silence passed as He ran His fingers through the dirt. He was mingling in the same dirt that stained her. She looked again at His eyes. He seemed much more concerned with her than with the pressure of the crowd.
He continued to look at her, and she realized something. His gaze seemed to do something different to the death in her soul. His eyes seemed to inject life right into the place where death was screaming at her. In fact, the death from the other men’s gaze seemed to shrink back in the face of Jesus’ unrelenting eye contact. Something in her settled down. It almost seemed as if something left her. His look filled her with peace, and she almost felt…clean.
Then He stood and looked at the crowd with the same unmoving look. He walked right up to the man who had led this mob, looked him unwaveringly in the eyes and said, “If one of you has never sinned, you throw the first stone.”
The air changed. She felt the weight of accusation physically move from her body. Men and women alike turned their gaze from her and Jesus. Many began to walk away, looking down.
His attention was already back to her. He reached down and took her hand, and helped her stand to her feet. His eyes still firmly fixed on hers, looking deep into her heart, He asked, “Where did they all go?”
She wasn’t sure if He meant the men and women in the crowd, or the screaming voices accusing her in her head. Both were gone.
“They are gone,” is all she could say.
He looked at her. He saw her. He knew Her. He had somehow cleansed her, and sent away those who would have killed her. He looked at her with the most powerful eyes in existence.
He looked at her and said, “Go, and stop surrendering to the weight of your past. Stop giving in to the actress who betrays you. Stop backing down when you could stand up for your heart. Stop believing that your experience has determined who you really are. Stop seeing yourself as a slave and see yourself as a daughter of the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Go and sin no more.”
And somehow she knew. His Words had made it so.