Mary gazed into the reflection of the water that rippled beneath her. Was that really her face she was seeing? Gently she touched the wrinkles that had formed at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes looked tired, her cheeks were sunken in from lack of meals. She remembered a day when people were so impressed by her beauty they would gasp in wonder as she walked by. She would hold her head high knowing that men would pay a month’s salary just to spend one night with her. Yes, her beauty had been her treasure, her means of survival. Her hair, once black as the raven, flowed generously down her back, only to be matched by the mystery she held in her eyes. Her skin, once so perfectly kissed by the sun, was flawless, devoid of any blemish. Now, she no longer recognized the reflection before her. Men no longer turned their heads. Her hair was dull and graying, the brightness of her eyes faded from years of abuse. Men had disappointed her. They would fall at her feet worshipping her beauty, leaving her gifts of jewelry and fine oil. They would pledge their love to her, promising her their undying devotion- yet, when morning arrived she found herself alone, the empty space next to her echoing the emptiness she felt in her heart. She slowly traced her finger in the water beneath her, hoping in some small way to erase the hurt her face so obviously portrayed. Yet, deep in her heart she knew there was no man who could “fix” her. She was broken. She was like the shards of pottery thrown outside the city gates. She was tainted, spoiled goods. She knew she could bathe in the water beneath her, yet she would never feel clean again. She now walked with her gaze to the ground, not daring to look her accusers in the eyes. She had once dared to gaze briefly at a Pharisee and paid a dear price. His words were meant to tear her very soul. She can still remember the rebuke and disdain. She stiffened they were flown at her, worse than any stoning she could have suffered. She managed to turn away without shedding a tear, yet, when alone, she cried until her eyes were swollen shut. She thought many times of taking her life. Yet, somewhere deep inside where no one else could see, or hear or judge, she carried an indescribable hope.
Mary rose early the morning she heard of Him. It was like any other morning. She gathered what little money she had and headed toward the market. Inspecting the expensive fruit, she heard the shouting of voices making their way through the busy street. She saw a man everyone knew as one who was paralyzed jumping and shouting raising his voice above the merchants. “I have been healed! I can walk! Jesus has healed me!” Quickly she dropped the fruit, and made her way to the shouting man. The people crowded around him. One shouted, “What has happened to you?” Joyfully he explained, “My friends, they lowered me from the rooftop of a house where Jesus was staying. He came to me and said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you. Arise, take up your bed and walk.” Immediately I arose and began to walk, but if you ask me to, I can even run.” The crowd chuckled in delight, rejoicing to see the man now leaping and praising God. Yet, Mary walked away slowly, pondering the words over and over in her heart, “your sins are forgiven you.” She clutched at her chest tightly. How she longed to hear those words. Oh God, if only she could hear those words! She saw the man trail off in the distant, telling everyone he saw of what Jesus had done for him. He healed the man of his paralyzed legs, yet could he heal a paralyzed heart? Could he take the broken remains of a woman and put her back together? Her sins were so many, too many to even keep record. The thought was beyond her imagining. She did not go home that night, but spent her evening at the rivers edge. She gazed out at the water while the words rolled over and over in her mind- “your sins are forgiven you” and she imagined those words flowing from the Messiah’s mouth to be like the water before her. They would wash over her in a blinding second and for the first time in her life she would be clean.
Opening the door to her small house she placed her cloak beside the table. She looked admiringly across the room at the box made of alabaster sitting at her bedside. It was all she really had now. The oil it held would feed her for many weeks. She clenched when attempting to imagine what life would be like once the oil ran out. She was desperate. She applied the black kohl to her eyes and pinched her cheeks trying desperately to make herself alluring before she wandered out into the night.
Mary moved slowly down the street. The sun was beginning to set and the light of the day was slowly beginning to fade. She was glad for it, for in a small way she felt it would hide her sin. If she could stay hidden from the eyes of accusers, then somehow she felt less ashamed, although she knew that with morning came the light of the sun and it would bring all her sin into the open once again.
She heard two men speaking loudly to each other. Quietly she walked behind them, straining to hear their words, for she knew that she heard them mention the name of Jesus. “I tell you he is the Messiah! He must be!” The first one said. “Blasphemy! If they hear you say such a thing, they will stone you where you stand!” The other said. “Well, I hear that tonight he goes to the house of Simon the Pharisee. Surely he would not let a blasphemer in his home.”
Mary quickly put her hand over her mouth to stifle the gasp of excitement. Jesus was only minutes away from where she stood. Her heart raced in fear and excitement. Without a second thought she ran home. She grabbed the alabaster box filled with fragrant oil. She would offer him all she had just to hear the words “your sins are forgiven you”. As she walked toward the house of Simon, fear began to overtake her. If she entered the house of holy men, she would be rebuked and ridiculed, but more than likely they would take her out to the streets and stone her. Yet, she would go through worse than that just to know she was forgiven, to know that she was loved for who she was, to know that she was valuable and treasured, just to experience true love. She grasped the alabaster box tightly as tears began to flow down her cheeks. It was like a fountain now that she could not turn off. She was steps away from the door and yet even then she could feel His presence. Without an invitation, she boldly walked through the entrance of the Pharisee’s home. All who stood around wagged their heads in unbelief. The black kohl from her eyes had streaked down her face, her hair was disheveled and unruly, and now she was standing behind Jesus with a small alabaster box gripped firmly in her hands. Slowly she turned toward him. He was beautiful. He was everything she could have ever imagined. His eyes, she would never forget those eyes. They were warm and gentle and yet they pierced her very soul. In one glance of his eyes she understood that he knew everything about her. He knew where she had been; he knew what she had done. He had seen the blows of abuse, the feelings of inadequacy and her low self-esteem. He saw the little girl in the woman before him, discarded like a child’s broken toy. He knew of every tear that had flowed down her cheeks. He saw the nights she cried herself to sleep begging for someone to just love her. He saw every wall she placed around her heart. He knew that tonight she risked everything- her very life- just for this moment. Weeping, she fell upon her knees before him. His feet were dusty from his journey, yet her tears became like water upon them and she began to dry them with her long hair. She kissed his feet and opened the alabaster box. The oil had no earthly value to her now- for she understood that what He desired was worth far more than the oil for what he desired was her very soul- her failures- her fears- her inadequacies- her heart. The oil symbolized all she had and she gladly poured it all upon him. It was a symbol of hospitality, of welcoming someone into your home, yet she was welcoming him into her heart- into the secret hidden places where she allowed no one. The Pharisees fidgeted in their seats, uncomfortable with her fanaticism, yet she could not hear them, nor could she see them, for her spirit was no longer in the house of Simon the Pharisee. It was in that place of complete abandonment to worship. She was being set free, she was being forgiven of a life full of sin and failure and she no longer cared if they were offended or uncomfortable.
Simon became enraged. He thought to himself- This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner! Jesus, hearing his thoughts said, "Simon, I have something to say to you. There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged."
Jesus turned to Mary and smiled. He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." Jesus lifted Mary’s chin to look into her eyes. With tears in his own, he proclaimed, "Your sins are forgiven."
The sound of his voice became like the sound of a thousand waterfalls. It penetrated the wounded places of her heart, and like the oil she used to anoint His feet, his voice was like a healing salve to her broken heart. Light came from everywhere and looking into his eyes she saw her reflection. HE was the living water. HE was the healing balm. HE was the love she had sought after for years; and there before the same men who judged her and rebuked her, the same men who discarded her and sought to destroy her, Jesus vindicated her.
Time passed and Mary stood weeping that warm Friday morning before a cross where hung between two thieves was her Healer, her Savior, her Redeemer. She heard the cry “It is finished.” She felt the earthquake beneath her feet, yet three days would pass before she understood that she had been purchased that beautiful Friday morning. Standing once again before Him, He now gave her purpose. “Go.” He said. “Tell them I am alive.”
Running to tell the good news, her mind flashed back to the day she ran home to retrieve the alabaster box filled with fragrant oil, her heart cold and empty. Now, weeping with joy she realized her hands were empty, yet her heart was full, filled with the sweet smelling fragrance of the Savior’s love.
Abandonment: to give up to the control or influence of another person or agent to give up with the intent of never again claiming a right or interest in to give (oneself) over unrestrainedly to cease from maintaining, practicing, or using to cease intending or attempting to perform
Bless the Lord, oh my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!