The men's fingers pressed into the exposed flesh of Hadara's arms. She struggled to free herself, but their strength was greater. Besides, if she fought them too wildly, the covering she'd grabbed would fall into the dirt. Sidestepping a puddle, the cloaked and belted men paid no heed as they drug her through the middle of the dirty water. She forced herself not to start fresh tears. It didn't really matter where they took her. According to ancient Hebrew law, she deserved death by stoning.
Around her, Jerusalem was awakening, the rhythm of its daily activities breathing new life into the city. Like music, the sound of women crushing grain in hand mills drifted through the streets and over houses.
Hadara gasped as the men jerked her onto the walkway leading to the temple. The cloth slipped from her shoulders. Where were they taking her? They couldn't possibly intend to display her in there! Risking more pain, she tugged against her jailers, kicking out with her bare feet.
"No! Please! Anywhere but here!"
Fingers bit into her flesh harder still. These men, these leaders of her people, refused to speak to her. They didn't want to dirty themselves. They'd trap her into sinning, hand her a death sentence, but they would not look at her.
As they reached the end of the bridge, arches curved above them. They were in the colonnade of the western wall of the temple. Across the vast court, beyond Solomon's Colonnade, the Mount of Olives glowed in the morning light. Oh Lord, you created this land. Everlasting God, you shaped these hills with your hands. This is your land! But where are you now? Have you forsaken me? Can you not bear to look upon me?
Hadara finally broke down and let great, wracking sobs spring forth from deep in her body. She sagged, becoming as limp as her clothes when she removed them just hours before. What had she done? She had forsaken the God of Abraham. She would die before him, guilty as charged.
In the women's court, morning shadows slanted across the almost empty space. Almost empty except for the group of men and women huddled on the far side. Hadara barely glanced at them. What did it matter where they were taking her? The result would be the same. Guilty. Condemned. She hung her head as the crowd parted easily for them. Silence reigned. Suddenly, for an unknown reason, she looked up. On the steps leading to the Nicanor Gate, a large crowd around him, sat a man. She'd seen him before, here and there. Hadn't he claimed to be Messiah, even God? Jesus of Nazareth was his name.
The men had released their grip, leaving her standing in the midst of the crowd, bruised, shattered, alone. She clutched the cloth, her stomach sour.
"Teacher," said a Pharisee. "This woman has been caught in the act of adultery."
Jesus continued to look at the ground.
"In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?"
She shivered as a wind blew down off the slopes. No one offered to lend her their cloak.
Another Pharisee opened his mouth to speak. Jesus ignored him and stooped down to write on the ground with his finger. She couldn't see what he wrote, but the teachers of the law had a perfect view.
"What do you say we do with this woman, teacher?"
The crowd was still, expectant. Hadara hung her head and closed her eyes.
"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
At the sound of the gentle, authoritative voice, she raised her eyes. The teacher still had not looked at her. He bent over again and wrote on the ground. Amazed, she watched as, one by one, her captors left. The sound of their stones hitting the ground echoed the beating of her heart. Finally, she alone remained with Jesus.
Slowly, he turned to look at her for the first time. "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?"
"No one, Sir."
"Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."