Portrait of a Shamed Woman

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. 

Peace? Now?

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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38 thoughts on “Portrait of a Shamed Woman

  1. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. this kind of story weaving from between the lines of the Word! MY FAVORITE. And, you did it really, really well. Way to go! xo

    1. Thank you so much, Susan! I hope your launch is going well. I’ve seen it on three other blogs…Joanne, Meghan, and Kristin this week. I will post it on my blog Monday, June 19. Many, many blessings prayed for you!

  2. I really got caught up in the drama and intrigue of this one, Sarah–not that the others haven’t been equally compelling. But this one really hits close to home for me. I don’t talk about it much at Messy Marriage, because I am still struggling with the shame. And I didn’t even have an affair, but I sure let “affairs of the heart” occur in the messy years of my marriage. Keep this up, my friend! It brings so much insight into these kinds of situations–puts flesh and bone on them!

    1. Hi Beth! Thank you for this wonderful comment. I understand, the shame hits home for me too. I am surely enjoying my use of this different fiction pen. Haven’t used it since my college days! It’s fun to practice here. I hope to use the same technique for an Advent series. Blessings to you!

  3. Sarah, this is beautiful! I wonder if shame isn’t one of the greatest tools of the enemy in all of our hearts. You should seriously write Christian fiction!

    1. Your comment is such a blessing, Crystal. I have several ideas for fiction pieces in the future. Many blessings to you!

  4. I love the way this is written, Sarah! It brings life to the Bible story! Shame keeps so many in a self imposed prison!

  5. Power-packed post, Sarah! I always think the “adulterous woman” has no name because she could be any woman. I could have been her. My battles with shame are fewer and farther between these days, but they once stained my life often. Now I know Satan is the only one who reminds me of my forgiven sins. It is a tactic he uses to keep us bound up in fear instead of walking forward in the freedom Christ won for us. Praying now for all those who still struggle with burdens the don’t need to bear. Blessings!

    1. Liz, you make a good point. Perhaps the women weren’t named to protect their identities, or perhaps it’s because they’re types of “everywoman.” My story is similar to yours. I’m not ruled by shame any longer, thanks to God. Blessings to you too!

  6. I love this so much, Sarah! Shame is something that I have battled with so much, and everything in me resonates with the story of the adulterous woman. Thank you for writing this. This is absolutely beautiful.

  7. Sarah, I enjoyed how you brought this woman to life. She was a real woman, like all of us. How thankful I am that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus! A promise I treasure whenever the accuser tells me I’m not enough.

    1. Hello Debbie! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I’m thankful for that powerful verse in Romans that reminds me I’m no longer condemned. Blessings to you!

  8. We so often read the stories in the scripture without really pausing to feel the emotions they felt. When we stop and connect with them, then they have so much more life and impact. I mean, who hasn’t felt shame, loss, betrayal, rejection, exposure?. It’s all here in this one story. but thank goodness that’s not where her story… or ours… ends. Jesus meets us where we are and brings love, forgiveness, restoration. … LIFE. thanks for your post!

    1. Hi Karen. I’m so glad you connected with this story, as I did while writing it. Blessings to you!

  9. Sarah, this is so powerful. I was riveted waiting to see what happened next. If it wasn’t for Jesus, I too couldn’t been this woman. Oh, such grace!

    Marva | SunSparkleShine

  10. Sarah – I love the way you write. You captured me at the very beginning. I could feel how this woman felt, her desires, her shame. It helped me try to get in touch with what it might be like to carry shame around inside. I work with people who feel immense shame. I struggle to understand their immense shame as from my viewpoint they don’t have a thing to be ashamed about. We all struggles in some way. We all fall short. However it doesn’t matter what I think they need compassion and validation not me telling them they shouldn’t feel shame.

    1. Hello Maree, thank you for your kind comments. Shame is a powerful stronghold, and I’m glad God broke me free from it, as he did for this woman in the scriptures. Blessings to you!

  11. I’m loving these portraits — and the thing about portraits from the Bible is that we look at them, and they become mirrors for our own hearts and our own stories.

    1. Thanks Michele, I agree. When I’m reading these scriptures as I prepare to write about them, they do seem like mirrors. Good analogy!

  12. You have a real gift for taking a story from Scripture and making it read like an engrossing novel. It’s amazing how the living Word can speak into our lives read as it was written, but can speak into our lives through a retelling such as yours shedding new insights.

    Thank you for the reminder that our Lord and Savior is always there to pick us back up and point us to the narrow way, never leaving our side.

    1. Hello Karen, I deeply appreciate your kind comments. It’s been fun to write in the fiction genre this summer, and using God’s Word as my template!

  13. Sarah, This is a powerful retelling! Your stories of women of the Bible make their lives reach right out to us today to show us we are not alone and to encourage. I love that.

    1. Thank you Leslie! I am getting ready to write tomorrow’s post on another woman. I appreciate your faithful comments on this series!

  14. Such a beautiful way to bring this story to life. Thank you for sharing at Literacy Musing Mondays. 🙂

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