The wind whipped cold air at anyone who stood in its way. Clouds were dark and threatening. A heavy snowfall was expected that evening. The first of the season. Inside Saint Mary Magdalene’s Church, the bitter cold was not physical.
A group of normally-peaceful adults sat around a table. They were rigid and stiff. They continued to shoot Darko, who was at the end of the table, distrustful looks. Cynnie sat to his left with John opposite her. She crossed her arms, a look of annoyance on her face.
Father Luke stood at the other end of the table. He appeared shifty and uncomfortable. He glanced around the room wearily. He hesitated before speaking. “Thank you all for coming today. I’m sorry for not giving many details beforehand. I thought no one would come.”
“You’ve got that right,” a man muttered to the woman next to him.
Darko resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He did not know why he was there. Clearly, no one wanted him around. He was not sure what to expect from the priest. But he was doing this for Cynnie. He had to.
“You said you’d educate us in protecting ourselves form sex offenders,” a young woman said.
“Just keep them all locked up,” a middle-aged man chided. “That will solve the problem.”
Darko did not say that he sometimes wished for the same thing. Prison had not been half as bad as what he’d had to suffer since then. He often wondered if he should commit a crime to get back in there. Not another sex offense, of course, but something minor like theft. It was not uncommon among sex offenders since many could not find stable jobs or homes. What else were they supposed to do? At least they had warmth and shelter in prison.
What stopped Darko, ironically, was his faith. He abided by a higher law, even if no one else did anymore. He knew everyone was wrong to judge him. There was only One who needed to judge him, and he knew that He was loving and forgiving. Unlike these so-called Christians. Did they actually believe what they preached or did they just say it to make themselves look better than everyone else? It was pathetic.
Fr. Luke cleared his throat. The attention was back on him. “Let’s start off with today’s reading.”
“What is the point of this?” John asked.
“Thank you for volunteering, John,” Fr. Luke said. “Will you read John eight, one through 11?”
John frowned but did not protest. He picked up a red Bible from the middle of the table and began to flip through it. Others did the same. No one left one for Darko. Cynnie tried to offer him hers, but he shook his head. He could listen.
After a minute, John began in a strong voice, “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and beganto teach them. And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.
“But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be thefirst to throw a stone at her.’ And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. And straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’
“And she said, ‘No one, Lord.’
“And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.’” John finished and looked up at the priest questioningly.
Everyone was silent. Fr. Luke cleared his throat again. “Thank you, John. Does anyone know what this passage means?”
“Jesus forgives prostitutes?” a young man suggested.
Fr. Luke blinked. “Well, yes. But that’s not the point.”
“All of us have sinned, so none of us have a right to judge each other,” Cynnie offered.
The priest gave her a small smile. “Very good, Cynnie.” His eyes looked directly at Darko now, who was sure everyone noticed.
“But the woman in the Bible did not do anything to hurt anyone else,” John pointed out. “The sin is easier to forgive. She’s not at risk to harm anyone else.”
Darko shifted uncomfortably. Neither am I. But he would never believe it. If he just had a chance to explain… Would the priest give him that? Maybe not yet. No one was ready to listen. They could hear what he had to say, but it would mean nothing to them.
“Right,” an older woman said. “It’s not about judging. It’s about keeping our children safe. How do we know we can trust him?” She shot an accusing glance at Darko.
“He never did anything to a child!” Cynnie shot back. “It was a girl his age.”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Fine. We need to keep our women safe.”
At least there was open dialogue. And no one had threatened him yet. Maybe that was all he needed. With time, perhaps he could win them over. He felt a sudden surge of strength. “Have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies?” he said calmly.
“Let’s get back to the story,” Fr. Luke said in a loud voice. “Back in Jesus’ time, prostitution was considered one of the worst sins. And it did harm other people. It broke up husbands and wives. And all sin harms yourself. We all need redemption. Our job is to help each other get there. Let God do the judging. Trust in Him. He will protect us.”
The people looked at each other and murmured in low voices.
“I think that’s enough for today,” Fr. Luke said. “Thank you all for coming. I hope to see you next week.”
Despite the fact that not much had been accomplished, Darko could not help but feel a twinge of hope. He was determined to win these people over. He tried to find Cynnie as everyone stood up, but John pulled her away from him, glaring at him as he did so. Fine. He would wait.
Darko had his chance the next day. It was Sunday. Game day. Luckily, John was attending the game with his new wife. Cynnie had been invited to her brother Ben’s house to watch the game, and she invited Darko along. The Packers were playing their division rivals the Detroit Lions, ironically the team Darko had supported the previous year because of his residence in Michigan.
Ben’s house – at least his living room – looked like a Wisconsin sports gift shop. Most of it was Packers stuff, but there was some Brewers and Badgers memorabilia as well. Green and gold blanketed the room. There were countless photographs and banners on the walls. The couch was even a forest green. It was the most stunning display of spirit Darko had ever seen.
Once they were inside, Ben looked him up and down. “Nice jersey,” he said before turning and heading to the couch.
Darko blinked. “Thanks.” He had worn the Favre jersey every Sunday since he had gotten it. It was a comforting reminder that he was not alone.
A wide, flat screen TV dominated the room. The coffee table was full of chips, dip, popcorn, and cubed cheeses. Ben came out of the kitchen carrying two beers in one hand and a root beer in the other. He handed the soda to Darko.
“Thanks,” the Louisianan said.
Ben merely nodded. He smiled at his sister as he handed her one of the beers. “Ready for the game?”
Cynnie grinned back at him. “You bet!” She walked over to the couch and sat in the middle. Darko sat on her right with Ben on her left. The commentary on the TV started.
Darko glanced at the food in front of him. He never had enough money to buy snacks like this. He only ate what he needed to survive. It seemed like this whole family was pretty well off. Their gelato shop must have been very successful. He wondered what it must be like to live like this, never having to worry about money or the necessities of life. Meanwhile, he had to worry every day that some self-righteous vigilante would find him and shoot him in the head. It had happened to sex offenders in the past. Thank you, sex offender registry.
He picked up one of the cheese cubes and popped it in his mouth. As he swallowed, he noticed that Ben was watching him. He blinked. “It’s good,” he said, unsure of what he wanted.
Ben’s face broke out into a grin. “Try these.” He held up a plate of what looked like bumpy, oval cheese.
“What is it?” Darko asked. He picked up the cheese, a suspicious look on his face. He had never seen cheese like this before. It was warm between his fingers.
“Cheese curds,” Ben said happily.
Darko raised his eyebrows. He had never heard of it. “Cheese curds? What are they made of?” It did not sound very appetizing.
Cynnie smiled at him. “It doesn’t matter. It’s good.”
Darko shrugged. He had to at least try it, so he put it in his mouth. It was… good. “Not bad,” he said, surprise showing in his voice.
Ben looked absolutely delighted about something. “We’ll make a Wisconsinite out of you yet!”
A Wisconsinite? Is that what was happening? That was the plan though, right? He wanted to fit in in Green Bay. This was the way to do it. And now he had to participate in their favorite pastime: rooting for the Packers.
Darko found it easy to cheer for the team. Ben was very enthusiastic. He encouraged Darko throughout the game. Cynnie got pretty into it as well. Ben did not even seem to mind that his sister was hanging out with a sex offender. It was like Darko had been accepted into their circle. It felt great. He was beginning to form loyalty to this team and these people. Perhaps this would work out after all.