I stopped fighting when I heard the harsh rip of fabric, felt the bright silk tear & reveal two smooth calves. Of all the thoughts that could have occupied my mind, the only important thing was my new dress, now hanging in tatters. I had worked so hard for this dress. I had scrutinized over colors & stitching & cuts. It was the perfect dress, and now it was ruined beyond repair. All of my strength evaporated when I heard that sound, and my body slumped against the arms that corralled me through the streets.
They dragged me instead.
My perfect legs with their perfect skin were soon covered in tiny pricks of blood where bits of rubble ate away at my flesh. Crimson blood left a trail for others to follow. My dress was ruined. My legs were ruined. But the more I thought about it, the more I despaired. None of it mattered anymore. I knew what was coming, and I knew that I deserved it all.
I knew the people were screaming & cursing, but their voices were muffled, as if a cloth had been placed over my head. They were mocking me, relishing in my being dragged through the streets like a stubborn mare. Hate rolled off of them like waves on the shore. They hated me. I hated me, too.
Somewhere in the crowd, a brave bystander hoisted rotten fruit high into the air & aimed it at my face. I began to cry, then, my heavy tears mixing with – what was it? Figs? Berries? More started to fly, and I sobbed. Maybe I deserved this indignity. Maybe I deserved every bit of rotten food & furious insult hurled my way. I had done it, hadn’t I? But it was overwhelming, this shame & despair & hopelessness I felt. The sobbing turned to wailing, but no sounds left my mouth. Inside, I was cursing the heavens for all of this pain. As I quaked from the effort of my internal cries, one of my captors hit the side of my head, the flat of his hand flying with such force that my vision blurred & my ears began to ring. I sucked in a breath. How dare I make their job more difficult with my squirming?
It felt like a lifetime, and it felt like a moment, before they finally threw me at his feet. As one man yanked my hair and forced my head back, I wondered, Why him? He had no say over my life. He may be a prophet, a holy man, to be certain, but who was he to judge me & trial me & sentence me to die? Why did they drag this out? Why not take me beyond the walls & stone me & be done with it? Lying on the ground in agony, I peered at the dirty feet of Jesus of Nazareth.
The men surrounding me began to hurl their accusations at him, as if he could set things right. How could he? He was not God.
The two that had carried me began pulling at me once more, shouting in my ear, drowning out every other sound. Someone finished tearing my dress, and I lie naked in the synagogue. Oh, the irony. They wouldn’t let me worship there fully clothed, but their eyes shone as they wrenched the clothes from my back. Hypocrites.
I paid no attention as they shouted over each other, and I didn’t listen when Jesus held up a hand & began talking in his soft voice. I wondered how anyone ever heard him preach.
He knelt before me, looked me in the eyes, then bent his head as he swirled his finger around in the dirt. Who was this man? What was he doing as I awaited death? And why had he looked at me in that way? Why did he look at me? No one ever looked at me.
I watched him rise, my ears adjusting to his quiet voice.
. . . throw a stone at her . . .
Oh, I was stupid to hope. That was the way things were. I had to die, I knew I had to die. But he had looked at me, and there was something in his eyes, something that made me hope. I was so blind, so desperate to live, that I had made it up. I could not live. I had to die.
I buried my face in trembling hands & let the tears fall. My shoulders quaked & my throat ached & my lungs stopped taking in air, and I thought in that moment that maybe I could cry myself to death. Maybe I could choke on my tears, suffocate on each ragged breath. Anything would be better than all of those waiting rocks full of hate tearing at my skin until I was a bloody pile of flesh & silk.
And then two hands gripped my shoulders, and I thought to myself, This is it. I am going to die. But the hands didn’t jerk me to my feet & drag me to a pit. I opened my eyes & looked past my shaking hands, and there he was once more; the teacher, he was there, his dark eyes looking intently into mine once more. He took my hands in his own & pulled me gently to my feet, brushing the dirt from my face. Somewhere in the crowd, a brave bystander removed his own cloak & passed it forward, and Jesus placed it on my shoulders. His eyes never left mine.
He looked at me for a moment more, his mouth curling into a smile. I could feel every beat of my heart against my ribs, could hear each breath plainly in my ears, certain that each one would be my last.
The stones never came.
Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?
Bewildered, I turned my head in every direction, but the only crowd was the huddle of his own men behind him. Where had everyone gone? Why was no one waiting, rocks at the ready? What had he done – for surely he had done something – to make them let me go free? My hands flew to my mouth as I gasped, a new kind of tear rushing down my face.
No one, Lord, I whispered in wonder.
And he shook his head slightly, his mouth widening, his eyes sparkling, I do not condemn you, either. He raised his arms & proclaimed, Go. From now on, sin no more.
I nodded & began to back away slowly, memorizing the scene in front of me. The white stones below me, the stunned spectators around me. The simple man before me. Death behind me.
I smiled, returning the gesture, and found myself giggling like a child. Was this what joy felt like? I took a deep breath & turned back into the crowd, melting into the many nameless faces that watched me. Their eyes full of disbelief, each person backed away, looked at me as if I had sprouted wings.
This is what flying feels like, I thought.
I picked up my feet, hesitantly at first, scared that my legs would give out beneath me. When they didn’t, I hastened my pace until I was kicking up dust, pushing past the throngs of people to wide open spaces that I’d never known existed. I was smiling, laughing, running. I was beaming, singing, flying. I was shouting, screaming, soaring. I was free.
Oh yes, I was free.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin in the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”