For tonight’s Ash Wednesday service I wrote a monologue, retelling the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) from the perspective of one of her accusers. I admit that I have embellished some of the details of the story (such as knowing what Jesus wrote) but I don’t feel any guilt about that!
I didn’t know her personally, you know, but I knew who she was. I knew about the rumours, the reputation. I knew what she’d done. What they said she’d done anyway.
I knew about him too, but he was a well respected public figure so we tried to keep his name out of it. It wouldn’t go down well if he got caught up in the scandal.
It just makes me sick, you know, when people do things that are so patently wrong. The law is clear, you don’t do it! The punishment is clear too. None of us enjoy this part of the job, it’s brutal, but someone has to do it and for now that’s us.
We got the tip-off from a neighbour early that morning. Said she’d seen her sneaking in late at night but not out again so we knew she was likely to still be there.
As we entered the house I caught a glimpse of his face. He looked at her with such tenderness, such love in his eyes. But as soon as he spotted us that love turned to anger and he thrust her in our direction, “get this woman out of here” he shouted.
So that’s what we did. We’d caught her in the act so there was no question that she was guilty. You could see it in her eyes, she knew what she’d done, she knew what was coming.
We got to the temple just as the sun was beginning to creep over the hills, its golden light shone on the pale walls and scattered off the healing pools.
There would be no healing here today though, not for her. This was the end of the road – the law had been broken and the punishment was death.
As we arrived in our little corner of the temple – out of the way so the tourists didn’t get put off – we tied her up and began to look around for suitable stones, not too big, not too small. But as we turned back towards her we saw that she was not alone.
Someone was actually bending down and talking to her! Perhaps it was one of the pilgrims who didn’t know what was going on but no, he looked like a Rabbi – surely he couldn’t misread a situation like this?
As he stood up and turned towards us I recognised his face, this was that new hotshot rabbi that everyone was talking about, the one who’d been making waves all through the countryside.
Not the most popular chap around here if I’m honest, everyone wanted to be the one to get the better of him, to outwit him with some clever theological argument. So far no-one had managed it.
As we looked at each other we realised that maybe this could be our chance. There was no loophole here, she’d committed the crime, been caught in the act, and the punishment was clear. He couldn’t wriggle out of this one surely?
“Teacher”, our boss said to him, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” Seemed like a pretty watertight argument to me!
We all waited with baited breath see what he would say, would he step aside and let us stone her? Seemed unlikely given what we knew about him. But surely he wouldn’t contradict Moses’ teaching? Not here in the temple with dozens of witnesses?
For a moment he looked at us with such deep sadness in his eyes then, glancing back at the terrified woman behind him, he knelt down and started writing in the dust with his finger.
It took a moment to work out what he was writing, it wasn’t easy to make out, but I think it was a verse from the Torah,
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return”
What did that mean? He didn’t seem to be in any rush to answer our question and and after a while it seemed like he was just stalling for time so we kept pressing him.
“Come on Rabbi, what do you say?”
Slowly he stood up, brushed the dust off his hands and looked each of us in the eye.
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”
It took a moment to sink in, but when it did it was like I’d been struck by the rock I was holding. Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
I looked at the woman again, really looked this time. I saw the blood trickling down her cheek were we’d struck her. I saw her hands, delicate fingers hardened by a life of hard work. Through a rip in her dress I saw the stretch marks from a past pregnancy. I didn’t know she had children, what would happen to them now? I no longer saw the guilt, I saw the person.
And then I looked back at Jesus, and his eyes were like a mirror into my own soul.
I saw the bitterness I’d kept bottled up from all those times I didn’t get my own way. I saw the fear that masqueraded as zealousness for God. I saw the lack of compassion, of understanding, for anyone who didn’t agree with me.
I saw all those mistakes I’d made, mistakes I’d written off as ‘character flaws’, and suddenly I could see how others had been hurt by them.
As this washed over me in a flood of regret and sorrow, the stone in my hand felt like it weighed as much as one of the huge blocks that made up the temple wall.
I looked back towards the woman, but I couldn’t look her in the eye. The guilt and shame I felt was so overwhelming I just turned and walked away.
As I walked the stone slipped from my hand and with it went the weight I’d been carrying around for so, so long. The burden of guilt that had built up inside was suddenly washed away.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
And from that day on that is what I tried to do, each day. Of course I still made mistakes, who doesn’t. But in acknowledging them, and repenting of them, they don’t weigh on me as heavily as they once did.
I even went to see the woman again, to try and put things right there. But when I saw her from a distance, playing with her daughter, she looked so happy, like Jesus had given her a second chance in life. So I didn’t go any closer.
I knew exactly how she felt.
© Rich Clarkson 2017