“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner
like mercy and love.
Souls that converse much with sin and wrath,
may be much terrified;
but souls that converse much with grace and mercy,
will be much humbled.”
~ ~Thomas Brooks (1608 – 1680) ~
A Touch of Mercy
Bonnie Winters © 6/5/2006
A short story based on John 8:1-11 (NIV)
Gritty dust caked on her teary cheeks as she lay panting on the ground where she fell. It mingled with blood seeping from the cut on her mouth where a heavy-handed man slapped her to quiet her protests.
“Get up, harlot. Let’s see how Jesus judges you today.” A rough hand hauled her to her feet and shoved her forward. She willed herself to keep silent against the pain as she stumbled into a circle of leering men. Regaining her balance, she lifted her chin in an attempt at a haughty pose. Her clenched teeth bit back the retort she would have made to the Pharisees who dragged her here.
Fools, she thought, raking the circle with her eyes. She masked her fading bravado as she realized there was nowhere to run. The bawdy crowd blocked her escape, calling for the Master’s decision.
“Stone her. She was taken in the very act of adultery. She is guilty!” A sallow man, dressed in the gaudy robes of richness, stroked his beard with one hand while he shook his other fist in the air. She recognized his beady eyes and harsh features; he was the man who had been spying on her every move, waiting and baiting her.
She spat her contempt in his direction as the crowd took up his accusation. “Stone her! Stone her. It is the law.” She could almost see their fingers twitch in anticipation against the rocks in their hands.
On the fringes of the tense crowd, enterprising young men lay odds on the outcome of the spectacle. Anger and fear warred in her breast as her breathing quickened through her clenched teeth.
The icy bitterness in her eyes focused on the one they called “Master.” Go ahead. Condemn me, just like everyone else. What’s it to you if I die? There will just be one less harlot in the world. Why should you care that a Roman soldier stole my virginity before I was even a woman? You are a man just like all the rest, taking what I offer, then spitting in my face. But at least when I ply my trade, I hold the power.
Jesus met her glare. Like the warm wind of spring blowing over the land, His gaze melted the ice in her eyes. The catcalls and demanding shouts from the crowd faded until He was the only one in her world. Suddenly the air grew thick as she gulped back the tears, trying to steel herself against the searing compassion in His eyes. Her heart burned as though a flame had scorched it – burning away all her defenses, her hatred and bitterness, leaving her soul naked before Him. She pulled her torn cloak tighter around her shoulders, grasping it about her neck. If only she could run and hide her shame from His eyes.
Unable to break the hold of His powerful gaze, images of her life flashed through her mind. She was a cowering child with a tear-stained face, an angry adolescent declaring she would overcome her oppressors, a haughty woman taking control of her life in the only way she knew how. His eyes reflected a frightened and hurting lioness ready to turn back toward her enemy in self-preservation and rip him to shreds. The total love and forgiveness she felt in his visual embrace shamed her to the core of her being.
How can He love me with all the bitterness and hatred I see in my heart? I can never be good enough – never be clean enough to be worthy of Him. She held her body rigid, fighting against His love. The only evidence of her inner struggle was the trembling of her lower lip.
When He turned his gaze away and stooped nearby to write in the dust, the burning faded. The air chilled as though the sun had disappeared behind a gray cloud. Her soul was alone again with its icy bitterness.
She became conscious of the crowd once more. “What is he doing?” Necks craned to read His words. “Why isn’t he doing something?” The crowd began to shift nervously. “He must call for stoning. It is the law!”
When the woman’s accusers continued to badger Him, He rose and met each man’s eyes with a level gaze. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
“No!” Fear swallowed her last shred of hope as she raised her arms to cover her head for what little protection she could muster. He had deceived her! Lulled her into a false hope that He was different, caring. This Jesus was throwing her to the ravenous Pharisee dogs. She tensed, closing her eyes and waiting for the first stone to pelt her body. But the pain never came.
Nervous feet scuffed the ground, as the crowd dispersed man by man. Silence. She opened her eyes; slowly lowering her arms, daring to glance around her, yet ready to cover herself if needed. The Master still wrote on the ground, but the men were gone.
Her eyes stared at the man drawing pictures in the dust. She willed him to look at her, to face her and explain why – how He could move her heart to repentance in one moment then turn on her the next. But she dare not voice her thoughts. He was after all a man with the power to break her.
Finally Jesus stood and gazed around the empty street. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
The dragon of self-protection rose in her heart, spewing haughty words. “No one, sir.” As their eyes met for the second time, she flushed with self-condemnation for her shameful actions. She sniffed back the tears. Her lips trembled again, awaiting His judgment.
Why don’t you condemn me? Why don’t you stone me? You know what I am. You know the anger and hatred I feel. Do something! Please don’t just stand there staring at me. I deserve to die.
“Then neither do I condemn you.” He smiled, His understanding and love reaching out to her lonely heart. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
She turned and fled from His presence, running until her breath came in hard gasps. Nausea roiled in the pit of her stomach. Bile burned her throat as she retched onto the hard-packed earth. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
Kneeling there beside the road, she poured out her sins and hurts to her God. I am so sorry, God, so sorry. She wept bitterly.
“Neither do I condemn you.” His words reverberated in her mind. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
A feeling of lightness, newness, seeped into her soul. She could never, would never go back to that life again. He had seen the raw nakedness of her soul and shown mercy in spite of it. Behold, He made all things new.