So many stories have been told. It is difficult to pick one. There is the story where he calmed a raging sea by speaking a few words. Or the story where he healed a group of courageous lepers who dared to mix with the general public. Or that incident where he raised his friend Lazarus from a tomb after Lazarus had been dead for four days. Extraordinary accounts! But I remember best the time a hostile group of church leaders confronted him when they prodded and dragged a woman to where he was teaching—I was there.
That day Jesus made the kingdom of God relevant. A few dozen of us were sitting around him in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, some propped against a pillar or leaning against the wall. We listened and tried to take in what he talked about. He said words that no one else—sane—said, like: “I am the light of the world.” I recall trying to mentally process Jesus’ meaning when all of a sudden there was a roaring disturbance—some Scribes and Pharisees disrupted him. I tensed, frightened. I looked into their eyes and saw danger. Harsh shouting warned of a crime close at hand, as these authoritative men shoved a woman forward into our view. At first glance I could see the loose garment she wore had torn in two places around her knees and their were fresh smudges of dirt on her feet and arms. The heels of her palms were scraped and streaked with blood. I looked at her face, perhaps if there had been panic and terror before, it had faded into a weary numbness now. Dried tears left jagged stripes on her cheeks. I noticed a bruise just below her right eye and a small open gash oozing above her left eye. She was past crying. She trembled, awaiting her fate. One of the older Pharisees grabbed a fist full of her long auburn hair and pulled her toward Jesus. Then he got right into the face of Jesus and spit this accusation, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery! The Law of Moses says to stone her! What do you say?”
Jesus didn’t immediately say anything. It felt like a set up. The tension grew tenser. Jesus knelt and wrote something in the dirt. The Pharisees and scribes kept acting upset and kept pressing Jesus for his answer. After a long minute Jesus slowly stood up—I thought he sighed. He looked into the eyes of each man and said, “Fine, stone her. And I’ll tell you what, let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
Jesus’ words caused an awkward silence among the gang. It occurred to me that Jesus turned the whole fearsome affair back onto them. Jesus wholly exposed their hypocrisy. Almost no one ever defied the Scribes or Pharisees without suffering sorry consequences. But Jesus said what he said, and then he bent down once more to write on the ground.
An older Pharisee, the one who got right up into the face of Jesus, took a step back and dropped his stone. Then the others in the mob followed
I noticed eyes once more. The woman’s eyes filled with fresh tears. The Scribes and Pharisees eyes still flashed contempt. But Jesus took time to look up at each of them with love, compassion, and forgiveness in his eyes. I thought, “how do you do that?”
One by one the woman’s accusers walked away. Whatever they planned didn’t happen.
The woman stood all alone, silent, shivering, head bowed. Jesus gently asked, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
In a fatigued, parched and barely audible whisper she answered, “No Lord.”
“Well,” Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either, go, but don’t sin anymore.” With that she turned and walked away, too.
AN ACT of COMPASSION
I’ve wondered what became of her? As I watched her leave it came to me that I just learned a lesson in compassion from the Master.
Jesus turned back to us and continued where he left off—“I am the light of the world.”
LNR/Good Friday 18 April 2014