The elbows and shoulders and hands of the angry crowd surrounding me propelled me forward as if I were caught in a current of the sea. I was aware of three things: my robe swishing around my body, which was sweating profusely, despite the mild weather; the large stone that seemed to burn in my left hand; and the heavy pressure of guilt that weighed on me as if I were carrying a mule on my shoulders.
I was a young man, not quite 20. My father had stopped calling me Rus in favor of my given name, Andreus, just six months prior. I sold fish at a nearby market and made a decent living because I'd been working under my former master, Josiah, for nearly 8 years.
"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery," I heard the Pharisee say. I'd seen this one at the temple many times, and his wardrobe choices were always as excessive as his lengthy prayers. "The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"
I stood on tip-toe to get a better look at the scene. I couldn't quite see who the Pharisee was talking to. As if I'd actually spoken up, the crowd formed a circle. First I looked to my left and followed the arc of men—there were probably 30—all the way around to my other side. They all had two things in common: they looked indignant, even angry, and they each held a stone. Most of the stones were large, gripped in a white-fingered right hand.
My breath caught in my throat when I finally got a clear view of the three individuals at the center of the circle. First was the Pharisee, whom I already knew. His expression was one of pride, and his sharp eyes wordlessly judged the two people before him: the woman about whom the question had been asked and the man who was expected to answer it. I shifted my gaze to the woman, who knelt in the dirt, her eyes on downcast. Seeing her again sent a stabbing pain through my gut. The mule on my shoulders got heavier.
I'd first seen her at the market a month ago. She showed up almost every morning to purchase fresh vegetables and fish. I'd noticed her immediately because she had long, perfect dark hair and haunting eyes, brownish purple like the sea during a storm at dusk. She was always polite, asking how sales were going or commenting on how delightful the weather had been. I soon learned she was married—to one of the fishermen whose wares we sold at the market. He was gone sometimes for long periods of time, so I guessed she came to the market to talk to the merchants as often as she did because she was lonely.
I always looked forward to seeing her and didn't see any harm in exchanging pleasantries when she showed up to buy fish, but I couldn't ignore how pretty she was. One day she came to the market as always, but she accidentally paid too much for the fish. This had happened before, with other customers, and to my shame, I'd kept the change unless they had later questioned me about it. But she had been so kind to me that I didn't want to cheat her. I knew where she lived, so I went to her house after work to return the extra money.
She couldn't let me into the house when her husband wasn't home, so she came outside to see what I wanted. It was raining and after supper, though, so no one was around. She shifted the dishes she was holding into one hand and looked at me quizzically. I explained about the excess money and held it out to her. She took it, and I couldn't tell if it was my imagination or not, but her hand seemed to linger on mine longer than necessary. The spell was broken when the dishes in her hands shifted and fell into the dirt, some of them shattering.
I instantly squatted down to help her clean up the mess, and she did, too. She started to say it had been her mistake, and I didn't have to help, but she looked up the same instant I did, and her words were cut off because we found ourselves nose to nose. In one impulsive motion I'd regret forever, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth against hers. She did not resist, and it even seemed that she kissed me back, but I hardly had time to tell. If there were an award for the world's worst timing, I'd get it. A neighbor happened to be passing by and saw it, and before I knew it, I'd been ushered back to my house after a few sharp words from a Pharisee, while a teacher of the religious law took her away, hissing only one word in her direction: "Adulteress."
The next morning, I'd been dragged from my bed by my next-door neighbor, who told me to come outside immediately if I wanted to spare myself embarrassment. That's how I found myself here in this circle of angry men, a sharp rock gripped in my shaking hand. I was here to help stone to death the woman whose place I deserved to take. I looked away from the woman, the kiss I shouldn't have stolen burning on my lips in my memory. The mule grew impossibly heavy on my shoulders, and I stood there in the dirt like the coward I was.
The third and final person in the circle was a pleasant-faced man with a long brown beard and kind eyes. He was a full six inches shorter than the towering Pharisee, but he somehow seemed completely confident, as if he could call and army to his aid at any moment if he wished. He sank to his haunches and drew with his finger in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to the Pharisee's impatience for an answer to his question. He drew three big letters: "R U S." My throat felt like it was closing. This must be some kind of coincidence. Maybe he was going to add something. Maybe—
He looked up and met my petrified gaze, drilling me with his piercing hazel eyes. I heard a voice in my mind that said, "Repent, and be forgiven, my son." My mouth fell open. Who was this man, who knew my sin and could speak to me without opening his mouth?
The pharisee literally kicked the dirt in impatience. "Well?!" he demanded, as if he had other important crowds to stand before and other young women to stone to death. "She is an adulterous woman. Shall we stone her now?"
The bearded man looked up at the Pharisee patiently, as if he'd forgotten he was there. "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped again and underlined the three letters he had written before.
The stone in my hand dropped to the ground, and I looked around at the bewildered men who, one at a time, dropped their rocks and backed away, almost as if they were frightened. One by one, beginning with the oldest, they slipped away until I was all that was left of the circle. Somehow the Pharisee had disappeared as well. I turned away but walked slowly so I could hear what the strange man would say to the woman. "Where are your accusers?" he asked. "Didn't even one of them condemn you?"
"No, Lord," she answered.
Lord, I repeated in my mind. How stupid I had been not to recognize Him. This man was Jesus, the one who claimed to be God's Son, the one who claimed to be able to forgive sins. And now, since He'd spoken in my mind, I knew it was true.
Faintly, even as I walked away, I heard Him say to her, "Neither do I. Go, and sin no more."
I repented of my sin before God that night and fasted for 30 days. I haven't seen Jesus in person since then, but I think I will someday.