She shrugs the torn sleeve of her dress over her shoulder, trying in vain for a bit of modesty. While her flesh is hopelessly exposed, it is her heart that feels most raw.
They had surprised her, ripped her from a blissful slumber. She had lain there in his arms in the morning light, comforted after a night together. For too long she’d been alone, tired of being a shadow, of being dismissed and overlooked. Now, she had finally succumbed to one who attended her, broken her vow and turned for acceptance in someone else’s arms. It had been only once, and that seemed enough. For now, they had caught her.
Awoken from her bliss, she was dragged half-naked from his bed, tossed against the wall in a melee of insults and curses. Scrambling for any semblance of clothing, she had managed to slip her dress over her head as the temple leaders yelled and cursed at them both. Her lover, his eyes full of anger, shouted in return at them.
“Release her this instant!” He leaped out of bed to her defense forgetting himself.
“Shall we take you too, or just her?” the snarl masked by a long grey beard hurled the accusation at him. “It wouldn’t look very good for your position.” The last word hung in the air, an ominous threat to every fiber of her lover’s being.
He stopped. His flashing anger abetted a moment, cowering behind the fear in his eyes. She had seen it. She had seen how he was torn between duty and desire, love and honor. His eyes begged for an apology that she had had no energy to give.
Without another word, they had grabbed her, forcing her from his room, shoving her through his house, and dragging her through the town. She remained mute, finding that place within herself that she had visited far too often in her own marriage.
Now, she can hear the words of the crowd on her raking her over the lawful coals, feel their accusations seeping into her mind. The bruises on her arms pulse under her skin. The blood on her feet clots knitting with it chunks of stone from the road where she’d been dragged along. None too gently, they had tossed her in front of the man everyone called Rabbi. Now she sits, head low, dust her only true cover. Looking down at the earth on which she sits, she thinks to herself, I too shall be dust once this is all over.
The questions and accusations whirl around her. “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned but what sayest thou?” Their animosity mocks her.
She thinks of her husband, yet again away far from this place. Will he even notice that I’m gone? He hardly noticed me even in life. The angry voices of the magistrates ricochet off of her ears and away from her. The dust before her is her only friend.
From the corner of her eye, she sees another squatting in the dust. His poise is not as shaken as hers. He rests there, also focused on the earth.
The questions continue around them, ““If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. So, Rabbi, what say you?” Their cadence of their anger affects him not, and he continues his position.
Lifting her head, she considers this man. She’s heard of him, to be sure. Some say he is wise, the son of Yahweh even. Others insist he is a blasphemer, fit only for death. Yet, the calm she observes in him stirs the soul within her.
A curse fills the air, and someone else shouts, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
In this moment his gaze meets hers. His eyes are kind, without alarm. With a barely perceptible smile from his lips, she feels his kindness deep within her. He stands, slowly, as though the world turns at his command.
His eyes scan the crowd, and they shush to a murmur.
Hands lifted in casual conversation, he addresses them. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” For just a moment longer, he locks eyes with each of her accusers before stooping to the dirt again to continue his perusal of the earth.
This time, she notes that he uses his finger to write in the dirt, though what it is, she cannot tell.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she wills her mind away from the pain that will surely begin. Her back tenses, waiting for the first stone. She’s only ever seen a person stoned once before, and she was a small girl. Her mother had guided her away as soon as it was clear the person was dying. Hunching her shoulders, she prepares for it. The shuffling of feet around her becomes louder. The moment is now upon her, she is certain. Focusing on the blackness, she fights the desperation in the back of her throat.
Silence fills her mind. She waits.
A slight whisper of feet on dirt beside her alerts her. Opening her eyes, she sees only him, Rabbi. Looking down at her he says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
Struggling to her feet, she looks around. Her mind takes a moment to register the changes around her. Where there was once a large crowd of angry people, there is only an empty courtyard outside the Temple.
Turning to him, she meets his eyes again, “No one, sir.” His smile is confident, full of love, yet tinged in sadness. Tears burn her eyes.
Looking directly at her, his voice rings deeply into her soul. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.”
He smiles once more before turning to leave.
She stands watching as he walks away. Tears sneak their way down her cheeks and fall from her chin. She looks at the stains they create in the dust. This man took from her the crowd’s attention, the shame, the embarrassment. This man saved her.