It was several days before she had the courage to step out of her home. The cupboard was bare. She pulled her veil low over her forehead and stepped out into the sunny street, hoping no one would notice her. She hoped the vendor would not snub her or leer at her. She hurried along.
She knew the women were whispering about her. Who wouldn’t? She had given them plenty to gossip about. Dragged through the streets and hustled before the Rabbi where He was teaching in the temple. The Pharisees. Bah! They were using her as bait to trap the young Rabbi. They were upset with him, for He seemed to break every rule in their book, and yet, God was working mighty miracles through Him, and people flocked to hear Him teach.
She’d met His gaze when He gently said, ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ He said
She’d never seen eyes like that before. They twinkled with joy, and yet they were full of compassion. They were wise eyes that shone with goodness. His gaze penetrated her soul, and yet there was no disgust in His eyes. She just knew that He knew all and saw all, and yet there was no desire to hide from Him. She felt she could trust Him.
‘Go and sin no more.’
His words brought a healing balm to her soul. Yes, she was created to be holy. Yes, she belonged to God. Her life was not her own. It never had been. The past was buried. It could not live again. She didn’t know how, but she just knew in her heart that her life was beginning all over again.
Yet, now, out in the streets she only knew a desire to hide and it felt like her shame would be a burden she’d carry all her life. She felt stripped and lonely.
Then she heard her name being called. Her steps faltered. Should she stop? Her name was called again. She stopped nervously and turned slightly. Susanna, one of the women who were disciples of the young Rabbi, was waving to her to wait.
Susanna? She had never spoken to her before! What did she want?
Susanna came up, ‘Good morning, Miriam! I am so glad to see that you have come out. I am going to the shops. May I walk with you?’
‘Walk with me? Don’t you know I am an adulteress and no respectable person will walk with me,’ she said bitterly.
Susanna merely smiled and said, ‘People! Hmm. Do you know the prophet Isaiah snapped his fingers at people? People are here today, then they wither like the grass and they are gone. Their words are written on water. But the word of the Lord endures forever.’
Miriam gave her a sidelong glance. ‘Who is he? The young Rabbi? Why did he not condemn me to death?’
‘You mean Jesus of Nazareth? I believe that He is the Son of God, the Messiah we all have been waiting for,’ Susanna replied.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘It’s not just the miracles and healings that He does. Surely you have heard about those? No, it is the way He teaches and the way in which He talks about the Father in Heaven. He speaks so simply, and yet every word He speaks testifies to the Holiness and love of God. He can’t speak that way, unless He is the Son of God who has come down from heaven,’ Susanna explained.
A Pharisee went past. He looked swiftly at Miriam, then averted his face and walked by swiftly. He had been the leader of the crowd of accusers. Miriam shuddered as she remembered the greedy, slavering look in his eyes as he had looked at her half-clothed form as he pulled her from her lover’s embrace.
Miriam turned to Susanna and hissed, ‘That man, is such a hypocrite. He accused me of adultery and yet I know that he visits Widow Rachel every other night.’
Susanna touched Miriam’s shoulder. ‘Don’t do that!’ she begged in great distress.
‘Don’t talk about him? Why ever not?’ Miriam exclaimed.
‘You were shown mercy yesterday. You can’t hoard mercy for yourself. If you do, you will lose the peace that filled your heart when you knew you were forgiven. Don’t let bitterness rob you of what you have received,’ pleaded Susanna.
Miriam slowed down as she tuned that over in her mind. She thought of that moment when she had met the gaze of the young Rabbi Jesus; the moment when she knew beyond a doubt that she was fully loved and accepted by God, and that her sins were forgiven, and the sweet tender peace which had filled her then. Yes, it was true: there was no peace in her heart now. There was only a raging storm of anger and the need for justice, for her to tell her story, to justify herself.
Did she want this storm? No! There was a deep inner resistance within her, she didn’t want to let go of her claims. She wanted to speak, to tell the whole world that she was not who they thought she was. She wanted people to know the mitigating circumstances of her actions. She wanted to tear down the false piety and righteousness that the Pharisee wore as a smug, holy cloak. She wanted him to feel stripped and cornered as she had felt yesterday.
Susanna smiled encouragingly at her. ‘Miriam, trust yourself to God. He sees all. Do you think He does not know what lies behind the glossy pious exterior? Why do you think that man dropped the stone without throwing it? Was he not encountering the God Most High speaking to him through his conscience? Today the stone is in your hand, Miriam. Are you going to throw it?’
Miriam turned on her heel and walked rapidly away from Susanna. She leaned her forehead against the trunk of a nearby tree. ‘I want to forgive and yet part of me doesn’t want to let go. Oh God, you heard my cry yesterday. Will you hear me now as I pray? Cleanse my heart. Let your peace reign in my heart again. I release the Pharisee with forgiveness. Let me not carry the memory of his sin in my heart anymore. Lord God, help me.’
As she prayed, Miriam felt a peace descend on her again. Odd, she could no longer remember the Pharisee’s face, nor could she recall the terror of the moment when she was dragged forth. She drew a long shuddering breath and lifted her head.
She felt an arm around her. Susanna had stayed silently with her through her long inner struggle and now she said, ‘Miriam, His kingdom has come in your heart today. You have learnt to let His peace rule and guard your heart. I am glad for you my sister. You have received beauty for ashes.’