Our newest sermon series, Jesus and the Other, explores the revolutionary way Jesus interacted with people, breaking the human-constructed barriers of class, race, gender, religion and marginalization due to physical or mental health. The following monologue depicts the perspective of the "other" in such an encounter: the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11).
Written by Rick McKinley, Read by Michelle Jones
How did it come to this?
Dawn was holding its breath in the still morning darkness. I sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at him, breathing in his scent, matching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, and wondering—not for the first time—how does he sleep so soundly? I duck at every shadow, hear peril in every gust of wind, jump at every barking dog in the distance. How is he so certain the world means him no harm?
My husband sleeps like that.
The notion tumbled into my thinking as I searched for my clothes amongst the tangle of sheets.
My husband. He will not notice when I slip back into bed next to him anymore than this one will discern my absence.
How did I come to this pitiful, empty existence—a desperate starving animal, snatching after bits of comfort as they skitter by me like mice, on their way to somewhere or someone else? He is one of those bits. I know that to him I am nothing. Well, maybe nothing more than a moment of release or distraction. There is no tenderness in what we do, no warmth or fondness between us. He doesn’t speak to me as much as at me. He doesn’t help me off with my dress as he once did, like a child unwrapping a gift. No, to be with him now is to be ravished by his inattention. What have I become that I so eagerly step into the embrace of rejection?
It is a bleak, ruthless game I play against myself, a stacking of pain upon pain, hopelessness adhering one brick to the other. There is no winning or end before me, save dying, only all at once instead of this drip-drip-drip one day at a time. Piece by wretched piece, I build a rotting cell for myself. In myself.
He snored and reached for a portion of the sheet I was not in, exposing my dress to me, so I grabbed it. He is so much like my husband. Perhaps that is because I am always so much like me.
One sandal laced, I looked around for the other when heavy footsteps moved outside the door—no, toward the door.
There was no time to think. I scarcely had my dress over my head and one arm through when men—a half dozen or so, I didn’t count—noisily entered the house. They were well dressed and purposeful in their movements. The “leader”—I call him that because he was the one who seemed to decide for the others—spared one glance at the sleeping man in the bed and then looked at me.
“Take her,” he barked and then moved aside as another walked past him and seized me. I looked frantically at Leader as the burly man dragged me past him, not caring about my state of half nakedness, my uncovered head or my missing shoe. Was that triumph I saw in his eyes?
I fought and screamed as they took me away, my bare foot scraping over rocks and hard ground, and then too my knees and thighs when he dropped everything but one arm and dragged me along like a sack of grain. Into my scattered and confused mind, a nonsensical thought—how does he sleep so soundly?
Light had barely yawned into the morning sky when we came to a pause. I was pulled to stand on my feet and then shoved through a crowd of people gathered at the temple steps. Before I came to my clumsy halt, I saw You, seated and speaking, teaching it seemed—wielding attention as a minstrel with a harp.
Then I was thrust forward, and all eyes, including yours, were on me. As if it mattered, I slid my second arm into my torn and filthy shift, conscious of my bloody legs and feet, and my bird’s nest hair. Oblivious to everything. Obvious too was my nakedness beneath the thin fabric. My skin burned under the attention. I wasn’t something you stared at, like a lavender sunset or a tender blade of grass splitting a stone in two. Nor even something to be gawked at like an overturned cart or an acrobat’s tumble. No, I was more a thing you wanted to but couldn’t unsee, the ugly and unwanted interruption of good, like a nightmare or a dead animal in your path.
“This woman,” bellowed Leader, almost choking on the word as if loathe to call me human, “was caught in the very act of adultery. Moses says we should stone her to death. What say you, Rabbi?”
Somewhere in my knowing, I could not relieve myself of the notion that I was not a person, but a riddle to be solved or a ball, tossed onto a field to be kicked between players until one of them is declared the victor.
But you did not kick me. You seemed in that moment to decide on a game of your own.
“Let the one without sin cast the first stone at her,” You said. I waited for a rock to strike me, wondering how long it would take for me to die in this manner, but nothing happened.
Then You knelt down to the ground, and with your finger you wrote in the dirt. I couldn’t see what was there, but what I did see astonished me. One by one, the men who dragged me to you—at first so certain of themselves—seemed bereft of the confidence that drove them just moments before. One by one, they walked away.
I expected you to boast, or at least go back to your teaching, but instead you addressed me.
“Where are your accusers?” You asked. “Who is left to condemn you?”
“No one, Lord,” I told you, but even as I said it, I knew—and so did You—that there was still one left who could condemn me. You knew who I was and what I had done.
“This woman should die.” You knew those men hadn’t said anything I hadn’t said to or about myself. You knew that I was already dying; that I was guilty every day of reaching after anything or anyone that would make me feel like I was something more than nothing.
I stared hard at the dirt, now wearing the impressions of Your finger, and felt a stab of kinship with it. You had used it to make a point—to win your argument. I knew that I too was little more than a pile of dirt, used this day to make a man’s point—to win an argument.
Then Your finger—that finger—touched my chin to lift my face and my eyes to You.
“Neither do I condemn you,” you said.
Your words exposed me even as they covered me. Who are You that by calling me blameless, I am at once broken and healed, both buried and made alive? By Your pardon, I am dragged from the torment of my night and thrust into a new day.
“Go,” You said, as if reading my thoughts. “Go, and sin no more.”
I left you a little afraid to hope, but more afraid not to. Can I truly go, I wondered, and choose to be different tomorrow than I am today? Can I choose the bounty of Your love, Your kindness, and Your acceptance over the scraps of my misery?
I walked home—chin lifted, smudged where You touched it—a little less aware of my pathetic spectacle, but mostly amazed that the only One worthy to cast me away had brought me close, and made me whole.