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Letters in the Sand -John 8:1-11

July 24, 2013

The sand was hot on her bare hands. Her neck burned from the sun–and from the tight grip of the man who had thrown her to the ground. Through the throbbing heat, she could feel their eyes judging her, judging her without knowing her. She had heard them talking earlier, before they brought her to the courtyard. They were waiting on a prophet, one who would, they said, condemn her. She didn’t understand why they needed another man to condemn her, there were already plenty of men present.

She crouched in the sand ignoring the burn. The murmurs became whispers before they ceased completely. She kept her head down and didn’t dare look up even though she was curious to see the face of her judge. In an instant, the holy men began yelling at this newcomer.

“Are we not right to punish a whore!?”

“The holy scripts demand we judge her!”

“We must stone her for her filthiness!”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw some of the crowd reach down and pick up stones. Stoning: a painful way to die. It was slow and cruel. All she could hope for was that their aim was more merciful than their words.

There was quiet once more as the crowd and holy men watched the prophet kneel in the dirt just an arms length away from her: the vile one. She watched, entranced as he drew words in the dirt with his knuckle. She’d never learned to read, and right now she wished desperately that she had. What could he possibly be writing at this moment? The moment before her death.

It didn’t take long for the bloodthirsty crowd to demand an answer from the man; their malice turned toward him when he wouldn’t cooperate. The prophet seemed deaf to their demands. He simply continued to draw letters in the hot sand. She watched, mesmerized by his calmness and the smooth strokes of his fingers. The crowd grew more angry, but the man was unaffected. She felt nothing but peace emanating from him, and it helped her face the inevitability of her coming death.

Just when she thought the crowd would get physical with the prophet, he slowly stood to face them. The crowd and holy men grew silent, and she no longer noticed the burning sand as everyone held their breath waiting for the man to speak. It was a long moment of trepidation before he finally said, “He among you that is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her.” With that, he slowly lowered himself back to the ground to draw more letters in the sand.

All was still. She cringed as she saw one man toss a stone back and forth between his hands. It wouldn’t be long now. Even though he hadn’t saved her, he had tried, which was more than anyone had done for her before. Mere seconds felt like an eternity as she waited. The man knelt between her and the angry crowd; she hoped he wouldn’t get hurt by the stones as they were pelted at her already broken body. A body broken for a long time now.

With eyes closed she focused on the sound his fingers made in the sand. Her breathing steadied, and she felt calm. She prayed that what came after would be better than what had come before. She felt beads of sweat glide slowly down her back and waited. Waited for the release of death.

After an unknown amount of time, she felt a shadow fall across her face. It was blessedly cool, and she thought for a brief moment that maybe it was already over. Maybe someone had felt pity on her and aimed their missile just right. Slowly, she opened her eyes to see the prophet standing before her, smiling. Without looking away from his face, she knew they were alone. The crowd had dispersed; the stones lie harmlessly in the hot sand where they had been dropped.

“Woman,” said the prophet, “where are thine accusers? Has no one condemned you?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. She could only stare, and when his smile grew wider, she answered him saying, “No, my Lord.” His eyes grew soft and he reached out his hand to her. Him, a prophet, reached his hand toward a known harlot. She hesitated, glanced at his outstretched hand, and then looked back into his loving eyes. He smiled again and remained as he was. Slowly she placed her hand in his and he helped her stand.

For the longest moment, he stood there looking at her with love. Most men either glared at her with contempt or lust. There was neither in this man’s face, only love–pure love. His grip tightened on her hand as he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. Sin no more.”

With one last bright smile he turned and walked away leaving her alone in the courtyard. She stood still, unsure of what to do. It was then she felt hope wash over her like a fresh breeze. Hope: something she had never dared to feel before. She turned her face to the Son and smiled.  As the hope took root, she knew that this man had not simply saved her life. He had saved her soul.

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