Monday, 18 February 2013

The Teacher

'At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. 
They made her stand before the group and they said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?' They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. 
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' 
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 
Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?' 
'No one, sir,' she said. 
'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.' 
John 8:2-11

Listen to me. I'll tell my side of the story. 

I find I am torn, sometimes, because part of me still wants to hide that whole sorry part of my life, and yet I ought to tell it; I need to tell it. I can't keep it to myself. These days I care so much less what people think. I am not the woman I was then.

I have thought how I might tell this story without looking bad, but it can't be done. That's the whole point - I made some bad decisions, one on top of another, and I knew they were bad. I knew what I was doing; I wanted something and I took it. I suppose I thought naively that nobody need ever know, but I was wrong.  This was the day that it all came crashing down. 

Don't judge me. I loved him. He loved me - I'm sure he did. From when we were children, we wanted to be together, but it was not to be. He married someone else to please his parents and although he saw my anguish, he would not stand against the way things were done. I would have followed him to the ends of the earth, but he chose her, for an easy life. When the time came for me to marry, I did as I was told; I didn't much care who my husband might be if it couldn't be him. There are many secrets in a woman's heart, and I learned to keep my own counsel. My husband never knew that I loved another man. 

My husband's business was doing well. He began to travel further afield to sell his wares. I did not miss him. Mine was a solitary life, whether he was there or not, for I was resigned to a life of loneliness even when surrounded by crowds of people. I saw the one I loved laughing with his friends, his plain and dutiful wife in tow and I was bitter and resentful. Little by little my heart froze into a cold, cold thing. 

It began with a long look in the market place as we stood one day. The next day I saw him somewhere else, and he caught my eye. His smile transported me back to the days when we were innocent children playing together in the fields, and yet there was something else too. His gaze was a heavy thing, drinking me in, seeing inside, uncovering the longing that I tried so hard to bury. To begin with I lowered my eyes demurely and turned away but it was too much to ask of me. Remember, I've always loved him. Did he want me still? Was it possible? One day I looked straight back into his eyes. Brazen? Oh yes, it was. It was laden with meaning. I intended it to be.

Inevitably, there was a tap at my door that evening after dark. I knew there would be. I was in my best clothes, bathed and perfumed. I won't tell you the details, but I opened the door, as I'd always known I would.

And so a pattern developed. My husband went away on business, I would change the sheets on my bed and late at night I would answer the knock at the door. We were so careful. We thought that we had been so clever. We only cared about right now, about passion. We knew what we were doing and we knew that it was wrong, but it didn't matter. We were greedy for each other. We used to say, 'Until next time...until next time...'

And then it happened. 

It was early. The sky was beginning to lighten and he was still asleep next to me. It was his habit to sneak out before first light to go home while there were still shadows for concealment. I was about to wake him, but first in that faint glow of pink in the sky I could see his profile and I lay on my side and admired him. A noble forehead, beautiful eyelashes that would be the envy of a woman, a strong, straight nose. His chin was a little weak, but I didn't notice that until much later. 

I turned to wake him with a kiss. And hell broke loose in my house. 

We were betrayed. To this day I don't know if it was his wife, or a neighbour, but the religious people burst into my house. What a tableau of sin we must have made. I, poised above my lover in bed, my hair tumbling over bare shoulders. There was no talking my way out of this.

They dragged me away from him. Wearing only the gown that I sleep in, they picked me up screaming and writhing and conveyed me out of the front door and down the street as the first rays of day broke in the market square. I shouted for him to come to my rescue, to think of something, to offer them money, to fight for me, but he did not come.  I knew the penalty for my crime, and I was terrified. 

He never came. 

There I was, helpless between two big men whose grip on my arms was hurting me. My feet were bare, my hair unbraided, my thin nightgown gaping at the neck. I'm sure that my eyes were wild. I had no idea where they were taking me but I thought I was about to die. I thought that they were manhandling me outside the town where they could carry out their sentence. People were emerging from houses to find breakfast or start work and womenfolk were fetching water. They all saw me in my humiliation. Some stared, some jeered, some followed, someone spat at me. 

I stopped struggling and hung my head. I let them drag me.

We didn't go to the edge of town. We came to the temple. I should have known that these religious people would want my sentence to be carried out publicly. They threw me to the ground and stood around me like guards. 

I don't remember much about this. I remember curling up in a ball on the stony ground, hands covering my head, expecting blows, waiting for it to start. It was cold, but I was damp with perspiration. I was shaking.  

I heard one of the men who stood over me speak. I looked up, dust and hair sticking to the tears on my face. 

There was a large crowd that was growing rapidly as more onlookers came to see the pathetic creature snivelling on the floor. People were standing around as if they'd been there a while, and a teacher was sitting in his seat.

I had not seen this man before, but I thought I knew who he was. I had heard about a man who came with a new message and spoke with authority. My neighbours had spoken of him and his intriguing teaching, and I had heard that he was attracting attention - both the positive and the negative kind. Of course, I hadn't sought him out myself. It had been years since I had been near the temple. I had eyes only for one man, and he was conspicuous in his absence right now, when I needed him. I had no time for religious teaching. The life I was living, I didn't want to think too deeply about sin.

The Pharisee to my left spoke in a loud voice.

'This woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. In the law, Moses tells us to stone such women. What do you say, teacher?'

He spat the last word. He kicked dust in my face as I looked desperately up at him. Wild thoughts went through my mind. How did they find out? Where was my lover? What would my husband say when he learned I was dead, and why they had taken me? 

All eyes were on the teacher, including mine. He was staring at the floor, forearms resting on his knees. A long moment passed.  The men standing either side of me became annoyed. One of them shifted position. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head, the teacher stood and turned his back on the Pharisees. The crowd were surprised. People looked at each other in astonishment. Who was this man who insulted the elders by showing them his back? 

The teacher bent down to a squat and began to draw in the dust on the floor. One of the Pharisees cleared his throat. They would not be ignored.

'Did you not hear? This woman has disgraced her husband, her family and God himself. Moses told us to put her to death. What do you say?'

Still he wrote on the ground and did not reply. It came to me. This man's name was Jesus. There were some who said he was special. 

Another man, behind me, spoke up with a sneer in his voice. 

'So, teacher - should she die, according to the holy law, or are you as they say, a 'friend of sinners'?'

The crowd began to grow in confidence. There was a murmur of confusion. A couple of people shouted that I was disgusting, that I should die. There were a few who held rocks in their hands already, as if impatient to start.  I saw people I knew in that crowd, people who knew my parents. I covered my face with my hands. 

I was aware of sharp stones beneath my knees, my ragged breath, my shame. Oh, the shame; it was crushing, suffocating. I hoped that death would come quickly. 

What was this delay? Were they playing with me? 

The teacher straightened up and turned around. He looked straight at me. No, more than that. He looked into me. He saw past my shameful loose hair and my red eyes. He saw beyond my nightgown and my bare legs. He saw my very soul. Until that point I had never believed that I had one. 

I could not look away. I so wanted to, because in that moment I was more aware of all I had done and the wrongness of it than I have ever been. This man, he saw my pride, my selfishness, my lust, my resentment, my anger. He saw my fear and my loneliness and my emptiness. I stared into his eyes and for a moment I thought I saw deep inside him too. What did I see?

To this day I'm not sure what it was. I can't put words to it. I saw pain, compassion, justice. I saw that he was different, as they said he was, but more than that. Perhaps a more educated woman would know how to describe him. It was... it was...righteousness. No, something else too. He was as different from me as gold is from mud.

He was holy. 

Jesus turned his gaze to the men who accused me. The silence was palpable. I held my breath. He raised his finger to point at them in turn and he spoke slowly, deliberately, powerfully. 

'If there is one among you who has never done anything wrong - he should throw the first stone.'

He turned away and stooped down again. With his finger he wrote on the ground. 

All was still. The silence was so complete that all I could hear was the thud of my heart. Nobody was looking at me any more; nobody moved. They stared at the man whose finger scratched in the dust. I dare not move a muscle in case I attracted their attention again. 

And then a strange thing happened. An elderly man on the periphery of the crowd turned slowly and walked away. He just left. It was as if a spell was broken; another man followed him. After a moment a third and fourth walked away down the steps of the temple. The crowd just began to disperse. A man close to me wordlessly dropped the stone he was holding and walked away. 

They all disappeared. The two that had wrenched me from my bed were among the last to leave, but leave they did. I felt as if the whole time as the crowd dispersed I had stopped breathing, until at last only the teacher and I remained in the temple court. 

I let out a shuddering gasp. He turned. Straightened. Walked towards me. 

'Where are they?' He said. He held his hands wide and gestured. 'Your accusers. Where did they go?'

I shook my head. I didn't trust myself to speak. Who was this man? I had been ready to die, and yet now my executioners had gone. 

'Did no-one condemn you?

Jesus looked at me. 

'No, sir. No-one.' It was a whisper. 

He held out his hand. I took it. It was warm and strong and dusty. He helped me to my feet; I staggered a little. My knees were shaking. I looked at the floor, keenly aware that I was half dressed.

The teacher held onto my hand in his. With two fingers of other hand he gently lifted my chin until my eyes met his. Once again I saw him. This was no ordinary teacher. No ordinary man. The things they said about him are true. No-one has ever understood me like he did in that moment in the temple. Me, caught deep in sin, rightfully condemned, despised, shamed, looking into the eyes of God.

'Then I don't condemn you either,' he said, and then, 'Go home. Your sinful life is over. Do you understand?' 

I understood. I took his hand in mine and pressed it to my face. He smiled as I whispered my thank you. I just kept saying thank you. The tears began to flow again. I thought they would never stop. 

You see, he changed me. I never thought that my life could be anything but bitterness. I thought that any chance of happiness and fulfilment had passed me by long ago. I had been cold and closed for so long, and here was a man who was telling me that another way was possible. That forgiveness was possible; I had been forgiven, so must I not forgive? 

I had a chance that I didn't deserve. A second chance. He saved me; physically, emotionally and spiritually. In all these ways he brought me back from the brink of death.

I thought that morning that I was lost and yet this man Jesus found me and set me free; something inside me grew and blossomed that day. The following days and weeks were far from easy - what I had done had consequences, of course - but I found courage to face those hurt by my wickedness. When their harsh words crushed me and made me feel worthless I remembered the love in his eyes. He thought me worthwhile, even in my sin.

I see people differently now. I see people in the light of what the teacher said. He who is without sin... and every man turned away, even the priests and Pharisees. I was humbled that day; yes, brought low and yet lifted up from the mess of my life, all at once. We are all broken, and all he wants is to heal us.

I hear that I'm not the only one transformed by Jesus. I've been told stories of the way he touches lives and heals people. I hope they are telling their tales too, for people need to hear. The whole world needs to hear. Those who are lost, like I was - I will tell my story so that they too can turn and be restored. I can't do anything else.

You know, the one who has been forgiven much loves much - I can vouch for this. I would do anything for him. I have followed my Lord from village to village, and I sit at his feet when I can. His friends accept me even though they know my story; they have seen stranger things than this! I will never tire of hearing of the things he has done.

Jesus has the key to heaven, I believe that. I saw it in his face on the day that I stood before him, empty and hopeless. I am alive again.

They're calling him the Messiah, and he is. He really is.

He saved me.

'He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.'
Psalm 40:2-3





Image credits:
DSCF1047.JPG by pete12958
IMG_5760firstflower.jpg by gladtobeout
Used from morguefile.com with permission.






10 comments:

  1. Breathtakingly beautiful, Helen. These glimpses into the lives of biblical characters bring the narrative to life in an exceptional way. You should really consider putting them together into a book. No wonder your readership is ever expanding. You are blessed with a vividly imaginative way of delving into scripture and bringing forth the pearls. Simply lovely :) xx

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    1. Thank you Joy. That means so much.

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  2. I agree with Joy! Beautiful and very moving. You have a real talent. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thank you! Thanks for reading and for taking the trouble to leave such a lovely comment.

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  3. Here here! Genius yet again:-)

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    1. Aww...really.... :-)
      Thank you Rowena.

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  4. So hauntingly beautiful. So breathtakingly true. So up to date too. Thank you for this

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    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words.

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  5. Agreeing with Ginger. We read and just breathe in the Spirit of God. thanks for being a willing servant writer. I bless you in your gift Helen.

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