His hand slid down my spine, stroking each notch along the way as if trying to commit to memory the map trailing to bliss. The air was thick. Heavy. My breathing came faster. Sharper. In those moments everything else faded to sensory whispers… the pungent and sweet scents of the herbs in his shop, the fact that I was supposed to come back with water soon, the dust of the ground that was getting into my hair that I would struggle to explain away later… as his lips slid down my neck. In the distance there was a door opening sound, or maybe it was me moaning… “Why is your shop closed so early? I need those herbs for tithe…” We jerked up to see a man standing there stopped mid-sentence, his mouth sagging open. We were found out. “So this is why your business hours shrank?” He said as cruel laugh lines crept around his eyes. In a moment his fleshy fingers were cutting into my forearm, I was trying to cover myself but it was too late, the nakedness of my body and my sin was pulled into the searing light of the street, in front of all of the people. “And what do you think we found her doing?” He said, and there was a blend of scandalized gasps and coarse laughs that came from the people. “You know what the penalty of adultery is!” The hard faces of Pharisees crowded my view, and the shouting of, “Stone her, stone her!” rushed past my ears like a relentless waterfall made of syllables instead of water drops. I was shoved through the streets, the air turned tan and tasted muddy in my mouth as the rushing feet stirred up the dirt underneath, a priest close to me touched my body with a sickening look on his face, as if no one would notice his own lust in the exposure of my own. I looked up to find my lover, to beg for him to rescue me like he did once before, but I caught a glimpse of him slipping money into the hand of the man who found us, then he turned and shouted along with the rest, “Stone her!” I threw up. I was pushed along the streets among the crowds to the stoning place. The place where you are buried under the rubble of your own shame.
I had always been a good girl. Obedient to my father and submissive in all things, including being told his choice for my husband. Only I didn’t know what a man my husband truly was. The first beating was on my wedding night, as if establishing that they would be a routine of our home. Which they were. I cooked and cleaned and let him hit me and hid my bruises so no one would know. My girlhood was beaten out of me. My womanhood was violated under his touch. I was broken and ashamed and desperate for a kind word, for anything not accompanied with a fist, and then while getting herbs at the market – I saw it. His face was kind, the way he touched my hand as we exchanged denarii for thyme was gentle. Day after day I went there and found my hope first in his smile, then in his words as I learned to linger and unburden my soul, then in his touch as he kissed my bruises as if to fade their memory, then in that day he closed the door behind me when I came in – there in the dusty dark of his shop all barriers between us were shattered. And what we shared there on the dirt floor wasn’t anything like what I shared with my husband on the soft bed. It was so unlike it that I came back day after day in between my beatings because all I wanted, all I have ever wanted, was love.
But there was no love on the streets that day. They shoved me down hard at the outskirts of the town and I looked up at the circle of screaming stone holding men to find my lover’s face… and he spat at me. I shivered. Shook. Wished that someone would begin to throw the stones. No world like this was worth living in. A world where my husband was a monster and the one man who ever said he cared for me was a traitorous liar. I wasn’t a whore like they shouted in my face, I was only a desperate girl who wanted to die. I sobbed into my hair as I curled up into myself and wept for the loss of love, for the horror of the shame and then I heard myself shout, “Just throw them! Throw the stones! Please!” But somewhere in the distance there were men debating, then a silence settled over the circle. I slowed my sobbing so I can listen to the strange stillness… this is not what happens at a stoning. I heard an unfamiliar voice that I would have known anywhere say, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” There was a shifting of sandals in the dirt. A ripple in the silence. The ground shivered as stone by stone dropped to the ground. I waited in this eerie stillness as I heard feet walking away and rocks dropping. I looked up from the tangle of my hair, and I saw Him.
How do you explain a single instant where your entire existence is brought out of the shadows? It was as if a part of my soul that I didn’t know I possessed came alive underneath His gaze. As if all the locked doors of my heart were flung open and both ugly secrets and beautiful hopes were flooded with a stripping, healing light. Underneath His gaze the beatings cowered and their power shrank. The lie of a love made in between the herbs was shown as crackled enough to be rubbed to dust in between my fingers. “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” He asked in a soft voice that couldn’t be torqued by any steel. I glanced around at the stone scattered dust – it was just Him and I there. “No one, my Lord.” I whisper. Then with a smile that couldn’t believe could be so sweet in the face of my shame, He took His cloak off His shoulders and draped it over my striped body. Kneeling in the dust He looked into my eyes and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” And it is there in that moment, in that dust, that I found that love I longed for all my life. One that covered my shame, saw me in my filth… and loved me anyway.
My husband of course didn’t take me back home, I may as well have been stoned as far as he was concerned. I left my shame in the past, I sinned no more, and I followed Him. Over all Judea I followed Him, at the cross I wept for Him, and at the outpouring of His Spirit I rejoiced with Him and told the tale of His love. You may have heard of me, I’m known as the woman caught in adultery. But maybe I should be known as the woman caught in the eternal romance. A love greater than my shame. This is my story – the story of a woman who got caught, in more ways than one.
Read her story: John 8:1-12