He had stayed too long. She had told him to leave last night, like he usually did, under the cover of darkness. It was too dangerous, staying until morning. This man she loved belonged to someone else. He came to her at night, and their embrace was the only source of joy in her lonely life. In the dark midnight hours he took a secret route back home to his wife and children.
Every time he visited he put his job at risk. He was a supplier of utensils for temple sacrifice. She knew his employers would kill him if they knew he was sleeping with her. The Jewish laws said as much.
She had come to Jerusalem as a grown-up orphan, trying to scrape together a living. Maybe she could find a better life in a big city, where no one would know her name or pay attention to what she did. No matter how hard she tried to stay anonymous, people noticed her beauty. She shielded herself from their curious stares, wrapping her veil more carefully around her head.
When this man had seen her in the marketplace, he seemed different from all the others. He was gentle when he spoke to her, smiling with kindness. She saw a need in his eyes, a kind of desperation for the same attention she secretly craved. They kept bumping into each other, flirting a little more each time, and finally their desires took over. He came to her place frequently, whispering promises to run away with her soon.
She wanted to believe it. She wanted so badly for someone to love her, treasure her, value her. She had never had that as an orphan child, but she’d seen it in other families. Her longing overwhelmed her.
In those dark moments after he left her bed, doubt overtook her thoughts. She doubted he would run away with her. Even though he wasn’t happy with his wife, the costs would be enormous for him if he left her. His business would be destroyed, and he’d lose his entire social network. She didn’t think their love would last, though she wanted it so much. So she took what love she could get from him, trying to be satisfied with the scraps of a pieced-together, secretive life.
That morning he had embraced her again before he left. It was barely light and he was hovering over her, and he was smiling. She had never seen his face in the early morning light. She reached up and touched his beard.
Then the chaos began.
In the heat of their passion intruders rushed the room. They pulled her lover off and grabbed her roughly. She was naked, terrified, and confused. She had enough sense to reach for the blanket before they carried her into the town square. She covered herself in a rush, with plenty of skin still showing. People in the marketplace gasped. They recognized her! Oh, the terrible shame, flooding her with every hateful stare. Worse, she knew her death was imminent. She tried not to scream.
They carried her further to the temple. She tried to block out the sounds of their accusations as they pushed her through the streets. “This woman was caught in adultery!” they shouted to the crowd who had begun to gather. “Death awaits her!” another said. She recognized her accusers as her lover’s employers. She feared for his life too. Where had he gone?
They dumped her at the feet of the Teacher everyone was talking about. This man had performed many miracles. She had heard he was kind and compassionate, not like the others. The tiniest glimmer of hope entered her soul as she crouched near his feet.
Her accusers told him she deserved to die. Their words were full of judgment and contempt. She knew she had no escape. What they said was true. She had committed adultery, and deserved death according to the laws of Moses. She resigned herself to her fate.
She had not raised her eyes since being dumped in the dust. Facing the hate-filled stares of the huge crowd was too much for her. She heard them gathering stones with angry fervor, their voices rising higher. She would die here slowly, while the stones covered her. She would become a stone herself, hard and impenetrable.
But the Teacher kneeled down beside her and wrote in the dust. Was he actually writing a message to her? She couldn’t believe it, but she looked closer. He wrote one word: Peace.
She braced herself for impact and shut her eyes.
She heard him say to her accusers: “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
Silence swept over the crowd. She opened her eyes, bewildered.
She watched the Teacher write again: Peace, my daughter. He looked over at her. His eyes were filled with kindness, mercy, and peace.
And she did feel peace, strangely, in that moment when stones were raised in the air to kill her.
She felt love in the place that had never been filled before.
She heard the stones thud in the dirt, far from her. One by one the crowd dropped their stones. One by one they walked away.
She was left in the presence of the Teacher, and she had never felt such peace.
He held out his hand to her. She took it, and he raised her to her feet.
“Where are your accusers?” he asked with such tenderness. “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
His compassion was irresistible. “No, Lord,” she replied. It felt right to call him Lord.
“Neither do I condemn you,” he said.
He put both hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. Love flowed over her.
He told her, “Go and sin no more.”
In that moment she was free. Her life was made new, and hope filled her soul to overflowing.
Have you lived with shame? I remember when shame held me down, like it did for this woman in John 8. I remember the laughter, contempt, and rejection from crowds.
I remember times I was a target for ridicule. Stories too painful to share here. But I know how it feels when others try to cast stones at you.
I know what it’s like to commit blatant sin. I know what it’s like to be condemned according to God’s laws. I know what it’s like to have your private life brought out into the open and called out for questioning.
My past sins don’t hold power over me anymore, because I’ve been redeemed by God. Jesus loves me just like he loved that woman. He also told me, “Go and sin no more,” and I followed him. I found freedom and peace in his presence.
I have compassion for shamed people now. People who maybe deserve punishment for their sins, yet desperately need grace. When I’m tempted to judge, I think, “That could have been me.” That’s how my past sins keep me in check.
But I am no longer bound to my past. I am a new creation in Christ, and I have abundant hope and peace and love with him. Hallelujah!
Questions for reflection:
How does God’s Word help you deal with shame?
In what area has God told you, “Go and sin no more”?
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