Him

Rodolpho Bernardelli: Cristo e a mulher adúltera, mármore, 1881, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

Rodolpho Bernardelli: Cristo e a mulher adúltera, mármore, 1881, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

I saw you long before you saw me, though at first I wasn’t sure what was going on.  I’m accustomed to disturbances, noise and interruptions when I’m teaching, I quite enjoy them as I can often extract an illustration from them; but usually within the temple courts I can expect relative quiet.  The sight of an angry mob hurtling in to ruffle the calm of the sacred precincts is not something I’m used to.

It took me a while to spot you in the middle of that seething mob, but when I did, how my heart went out to you.  Not even allowed the courtesy of covering yourself properly – whatever they were about to accuse you of, nothing in my Father’s law had ever sanctioned robbing a defenceless woman of her human dignity.  You didn’t see me watching you; you with your eyes pinned to the floor, your hair awry about your face, the hot tears making little dents in the sand.

I was taken aback when they stopped in front of me – I hadn’t realised this business was going to be anything to do with me.  But they threw you to the ground at my feet, semi-naked, exposed to the gaze not only of myself and your accusers but of all the men who had gathered to hear my teaching, and curious bystanders.

Only then did you look up and your eyes connected momentarily with mine – deep pools of wretched hopelessness that in other circumstances would have struck me as extraordinarily beautiful.  I held your gaze for as long as you allowed me to – only a split second – but into that brief glance I put all the love I could muster, a love that, I was certain, differed from any you had known before, that demanded nothing of you but wanted only to expend itself for your blessing and joy.

One of the men reached out, pulled you to your feet and stood you right in front of me.  Then he dusted off his hands on a clean cloth as if to remove the infection from having touched you, adjusted his phylactery and sneered, “Rabbi, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

“Such women” – as if you were just a category, not an individual.  They stood there so self-satisfied, convinced they had trapped me – and in one sense I didn’t care about that just at the moment.  But they had used you to bait the trap and you stood 18 inches from me, shaking so hard that I wanted to put out my hands and steady you.  And I could see that you were nothing to them, nothing but a bait for a trap, and I knew that you were everything to my Father, and that there was nothing He wouldn’t do, no price He wouldn’t pay, to rescue you.  They were treating His priceless daughter as less than dung, and the emotion that welled up in me at the sight of your anguished, shuddering form almost overcame me, so I stooped to buy some time to compose myself.  Squatting in the sand, I found myself at your feet, as if doing homage to the wonder that God had created.  I wrote, four letters – Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey.  And at once I knew what answer I would give.

Standing up, I faced them silently, and looked from one to another until I had made eye contact with every man in that semi circle.  “Which of you is the sinless one, the one that has never erred?”  I asked them.  A slightly puzzled silence met me, and the Pharisee who had posed the question to me took an involuntary step back.  “He is the one who should throw the first stone,” I added, and then bent down and added a phrase to the word I had written in the sand – ruah ha-qodesh.

When I stood up again, the men were gone, their silent slinking departure in stark contrast to the noise and bustle of their arrival.  I unfastened my cloak.  “Where are your accusers?” I asked you, lightly tilting your face upwards towards mine by a gentle movement of my hand under your chin.  And then, unable to suppress a chuckle at my own question, “Has no one stayed to condemn you?”

You were startled at first by my laughter, and then you, too, saw the absurdity of any of them having the effrontery to declare himself sinless, and the smile stole from my face into yours, first turning up the edges of your mouth and then creasing the corners of your eyes.  “No one, Lord,” you laughed back at me as I draped my cloak around you.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” I reassured you.  And then, pointing to the words in the sand, not knowing if you could even read, “Don’t do this again.  Instead be the glorious princess that We created you to be.”

You seemed to understand, and tears again splashed onto the sand, but they were tears this time of relief and joy.  You turned to go and I watched you walk gracefully out of the temple precincts, wrapped up in my cloak, clothed in the God who loves you.

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