The ancient steps I stood on were cracked with veins of age, each splintered line a reflection of times and events in history I prayed would never be forgotten. This holy place overlooked the foothills surrounding the historic City of David and Jerusalem beyond. The view presented an oxymoronic blend of ancient alabaster structures, built centuries before Christ, and modern buildings standing straight and tall along the horizon. It was a testament, I thought, to the harmony between old and new and of how much the world had changed — yet in many ways, remained the same.
Wind swept across the great temple, kicking up chalk-colored dust. I pulled my jacket around my neck in defense of the wind’s bite and closed my eyes, taking myself back in time. After a few moments, the modern sounds around me became muffled voices that eventually faded into silence. I imagined how it might have been over two thousand years ago, on these same steps on the Mount of Olives where Jesus taught.
The images began to form, and I smiled as I saw the people gathered around Him. I could see their looks of joy and wonder at the message He carried and of the miracles He had performed. And then I felt myself there among them.
The Messiah and the Sinner
He was clad in an ash-colored robe with a simple gold sash tied at His waist, and a brown woven shawl hung over His broad, sturdy shoulders. His shoulder-length hair was the color of cinnamon. As He turned His face to speak to the people crowded around Him, the fading sunlight glistened on His long mane like shiny strands of gold.
There were men, a dozen or more of many ages who stood around Him in a circle. Others sat on the steps near His feet, quietly watching, nodding in silent agreement and peering at Him with amazement. A gentle warmth in His mahogany eyes seemed to speak to me, and I watched Him, mesmerized by His presence.
But then, the sound of frantic voices erupted near the east entrance. I looked down at the boisterous crowd of a dozen or more coming up the steps. Stumbling ahead of them was a tall woman with raven hair, clad in an ivory tunic that was ripped and tattered. Two men shoved her through the entrance of the temple, and many others behind them were shouting and crying out, pumping their fists in the air. I could see a thin line of blood on her cheek as she stumbled forward. Two men, tall and muscular, gripped her frail arms, lifting her up when she fell.
Who will throw the first stone?
I watched as they dragged the woman, limp and bleeding, up the uneven steps. When they reached the top, they dropped her near His feet. He leaned down and gently stroked her head, as a mother would soothe a frightened child. “Why have you seized this poor woman?” He asked, standing before the angry crowd.
As His words seemed to hang motionless in the crisp air, a wind swept across the temple steps, hurling dust that hovered like a dense fog around the feet of the angry men. Then thunder rumbled ominously as slate-colored clouds moved across the horizon, blocking the fading sunlight.
The mob was cast in a blanket of darkness as if day had suddenly changed to night. Gasps and frightened whispers were heard among them. But the Man stood alone, bathed in a wedge of light that peeked through an opening in the sky. A radiant hue hovered around Him, making His eyes shine like burning embers in a fire.
Many of the men withdrew in fear. But an elder, clad in splendid colors and with a beard as white as the sandstone steps he stood upon, stepped forward to face Him. “Teacher!” he said in an authoritative voice. “This woman has been caught in adultery. The law of Moses says she must be punished!” The elder knelt and picked up a round gray stone, the size of a lemon, and held it up in the air. “The laws of our fathers say she must be stoned to death!”
As he finished speaking these words, the men behind him began to scream and shake their fists in anger.
“Kill the adulteress!” one shouted.
“Stone her!” cried another.
I watched as the angry cries grew louder and louder. Then the Teacher calmly knelt to the ground and began making signs in the dust with His finger. The voices calmed to murmurs, the men intrigued by His actions.
“What is He doing?” one cried out.
“What is He writing?” asked another.
Then He stood and stepped toward the crowd, pointing at the woman who lay curled at His feet. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be first to throw a stone at her.”
Never the same again
There was silence at first, then a melody of confused voices. But the cries ceased when He dropped to His knees again and wrote in the dust once more. Several of the older men in the mob pressed forward to see what manner of words this Man wrote.
The elder who had spoken of stoning the woman was the first to see the writing. As he read the words scripted in the dirt, his face turned ashen. The gray rock in his fist fell to the ground and clattered down the steep steps of the temple. He slowly turned and walked away. Then the sounds of other stones falling to the ground, one after another, cracked the silence. And one by one, the other men followed the elder.
As the crowd dispersed, the Teacher lifted the woman to her feet. He brushed twisted strands of hair from her face and used His thumb to gently wipe blood from a cut below her eye. An intensity gleamed in His eyes. His smile shone a warmth like that of a loving father. Then He and the woman spoke to one another. And after a moment, she fell to her knees weeping and kissed His sandaled feet.
The people who had gathered around watched Him move toward the entrance below them. Minutes later, though He could no longer be seen, the power of His simple words still floated among them. And all who had been there to witness knew they would never be the same.
I opened my eyes to see the amber haze of the sun as it began its melt into surrounding hills. The sounds and voices of the modern day filled the air again. Yet part of me still clung to the vision of that scene two thousand years ago. I didn’t want to leave that incredible moment in time. It served as a reminder that though we are all desperately flawed and in need of forgiveness, He will always be there to lift us to our feet, wipe the blood from our faces, and grant us His mercy.
And Jesus said, “Go now and do not sin anymore.”