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It had been a long day, but finally the small village of Bethany could be seen in the distance. It wasn’t an impressive sight, but everyone knew that it was the place where they would spend the night. More than that, it was the place where they would find their next meal. Simon had so often invited them for dinner, tonight they would take him up on his offer. Peter could almost smell the roast lamb from far away on the hillside.
“Simon – isn’t he the one who had leprosy?” Peter queried.
“I thought he was the member of the Pharisee’s that was so indignant and critical of our ministry”, Andrew countered.
“Actually,” the Master agreed, “you are correct on both accounts. It just goes to show that even Pharisees need a little ministry now and then, eh? We must never neglect any of the sheep, no matter what they believe, and regardless of their physical condition. Can you imagine what life must have been like for Simon? Unable to associate with the common people because of his religious beliefs, and, at the same time, being ostracized by the Sanhedrin because of his physical condition?”
The group fell silent for a while as they pondered the social dilemma that Simon must have endured. Certainly, since they had decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth, they had experienced their share of rejection, but at least they had the comfort of each other’s company.
“But isn’t he still involved with his ‘Pharisee friends’?” asked Thomas, with a hint of criticism in his voice. “If his life was really changed, wouldn’t he have made a clean break with them?”
“Careful, Thomas,” chided the Master, “we must not be too anxious to judge another, lest we ourselves should be judged – remember? Perhaps, someday, Simon will also be one of us who have been sent to declare the coming of God’s Kingdom”. Silence again descended on the group as each one pondered the change in their own lives since they had become His disciples.
She wandered along the street, past the coppersmith’s shop, toward the shadowed lane next to the public house. It was a miserable existence, but how else was she to care for her aging father. He had always done his best to take care of her, and since her mother had died, he was all she had left. Rounding the corner, she was jostled by a Roman soldier, who had obviously had too much to drink. He leered at her suggestively.
“Well, well, what have we here?” he mocked, grabbing her by the arm roughly as she struggled to escape his grip. “You’re out late tonight, my Dear, are you lost?” he offered a sarcastic explanation for her presence on the street at such a late hour. “Perhaps you need a place to stay for the night?”
“It has been a while,” she agreed, breathless, as she recognized him as a former ‘client’. She dared not struggle against his grip, but she loathed the reference that he made to her former lifestyle. Everyone knew how she had lived, and the sins she had committed in order to support her family. She had tried so hard to leave that era of her life behind. She had found employment in the tanner’s shop, she had offered to take the legion’s laundry to the creek each week – anything to earn a few extra pennies in a manner that was honorable. Still, her former lifestyle continued to haunt her.
“Sosthenes – get back to the barracks!” the harsh voice of the centurion commanded from the darkness. At the sound of his command, Sosthenes dropped her arm and hustled back to the Roman camp. Without waiting for any further interrogation, the woman scurried around the corner, and faded into the shadows of a nearby alcove. Breathless, she waited until she could no longer hear the hob-nailed boots of the Roman soldiers. Why did they have to treat her that way? She wasn’t like that any more – she was trying to live a respectable life – but no one would forgive the stigma of her past. The neighborhood women refused to even speak to her, while the men either gaped at her or haughtily ignored her. It was a frustrating, lonely existence, and it seemed she was condemned to live this way for the rest of her days.
It was mid-afternoon by the time they arrived at Simon’s elaborate house. Greeted by a household servant, they were ushered into the dining room where a small table was laden with trays containing a variety of fruit.
“The master will be with you shortly,” the servant advised quietly before he slipped out of the room. Within a few minutes he returned to fill each one’s goblet with wine, then silently exited the room once more.
“Nice house”, Peter observed, “I hope he doesn’t mind dust on the carpets.” Each one became self-conscious of the mud on their feet from walking miles in open-toed sandals on the dirt road. “Dust!”, Peter continued, “it’s even in my hair!” He scratched his head irritably in an attempt to relieve the annoying discomfort. Several minutes passed as the Teacher and his disciples made themselves comfortable, reclining on cushions in front of the low table, and occasionally popping a piece of ripe fruit into their mouths.
“My apologies for keeping you waiting, Master”, came the harried cry of their host as he bustled into the room and assumed his place at the head of the table. Embarrassed, he proceeded to explain the reason for his tardiness, as Thomas gave Peter a knowing wink. In an effort to set the host at ease, Jesus changed the topic of the conversation, and began to inquire about his on-going health.
They talked for what seemed to be hours, discussing what the ancient prophets had told concerning the coming Messiah. Simon was surprised at the authority in the Teacher’s voice, but he was unable to find fault with any of his words. The teacher seemed to be so intent on ensuring that Simon clearly understood each detail of the many prophecies that appeared in the Scriptures. Whether it was a question that he had heard in discussion with his associates among the Pharisees, or a point of clarification submitted by one of the disciples, this man always had an answer. Invariably, it was an answer that Simon could attest to, given his superior knowledge of the scripture.
She wouldn’t be able to approach him directly, she was sure to be rebuked harshly for her brazenness. At the same time, she was driven to finish the task for which she had come. There were other men in the room – what would they think of her? She knew that Simon was well aware of who she was, and had full knowledge of her reputation, but she had come too far to simply turn around and retreat. The shame of her past threatened to overwhelm her, and every bit of her logic told her that she would never be accepted in His company. Simon might even command his servants to eject her from the house.
No one saw her enter, they simply became aware of her presence as she stood in the shadow of the portico. The discussion continued as if she were not there at all, and the Teacher made no move to acknowledge her. Surely he could hear her stifled sobbing – what was the matter with her anyway?! What was that package she was carrying? After a moment, her tears were flowing freely and some were even dropping onto His feet. Attempting to ease her embarrassment, the woman quickly dabbed the tears from his feet with the long tresses of hair that cascaded from her shoulders. Continuing their dialogue, Simon realized that she was now directly behind Jesus, and had assumed a kneeling position just behind his outstretched feet. Jesus did not interrupt His explanation for a moment, and, from his peripheral vision, Simon watched the woman as she gently broke open the fragile alabaster box which she had been carrying. A sweet aroma began to fill the air - so that was what had been in the package. Expensive too – he could tell from the fragrance that emanated from the little box. What was she doing now? He watched in disgust as the fragrant perfume mingled with her tears, and the woman continued to wipe the salty mixture from the Teacher’s feet with her hair.
“What is she doing?!” Judas murmured, breaking the awkward silence, and echoing the mutual feelings of the majority of the group.
“Such a waste of good ointment…!” Peter agreed.
“Do you realize how much that ointment would have been worth if she had sold it in the market place this morning?” Judas completed the thought.
“Well, she could have given the proceeds to the poor” Andrew mused.
“Why are you bothering her?” Jesus broke into their banter in obvious frustration. “You have no concept of what has just transpired before your eyes”, He scolded lightly. “Poor people will always be present in society – I will not be with you much longer. This woman is even now anointing me for burial, and where ever the good news is spread to future generations, the story of her love and devotion to me will be told.”
His lack of condemnation, coupled with the acceptance of her offering of love, brought a fresh flood of emotion coursing down her face. She continued to wipe the falling tears from his feet. ‘Anointing me for burial…’ the words reverberated in her mind. Hardly realizing what she was doing, she reached forward and poured the remaining drops of ointment on his head. A few drops trickled down His beard, but the Teacher only smiled at her.
“If this man were a prophet,” Simon mused silently, “he wouldn’t allow that kind of woman to even touch him!” He shuddered slightly at the concept.
“Simon”, the Master broke into the horror of his reverie, “I have a story for you.”
“Tell me, Master,” Simon breathed in relief, thankful for the diversion from the tension of the moment.
“I once knew a money-lender,” the Master continued, “who had two debtors. One of them had borrowed twenty-five thousand dollars, the other had borrowed twenty-five hundred. Times were tough for both debtors – so much so, that neither could repay what they owed. Seeing their desperation, the money-lender simply wrote-off both debts, and presented each of them with a Certificate of Release. Tell me, Simon, which of the two debtors would love the money-lender the most?”
“That’s a no-brainer! I wonder where this is going?” Simon thought, as he turned to Jesus and replied, “I suppose it would be the one who was forgiven the greater debt.”
“Quite correct,” the Teacher agreed, as Simon grinned at his own cleverness. “Let’s consider this woman for a few minutes, Simon. When I came into your house this afternoon, you didn’t even extend me the courtesy of tending to the dirt on my feet. This woman has washed all of the dust from my feet with her tears, then she dried them with her long hair.” Simon’s face registered a look of total shock – as if it had just been slapped. “You didn’t give me the customary kiss of greeting,” the Teacher continued his admonition, “but this woman hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since she entered the room.” Simon felt like he had been punched in his belly. “You didn’t anoint my head with oil as a polite host would do, but this woman has taken care to anoint even my feet.” Simon was squirming uncomfortably now, trying to decide whether he should be indignant with pharasaical pride, or if he should be feeling shameful remorse. The moment of awkward indecision was broken once more by the Master’s voice, directed at the woman – “Your sins are forgiven, my Dear, go in peace”.
“What is he saying!” some of them at the table muttered indignantly, “he can’t forgive sins!”
Glancing at them, momentarily, Jesus turned back to the woman who was still struggling to regain her composure. “Your faith has been your saving factor, Daughter, now you may go in peace.”
The small audience sat, stunned, as the uninvited guest threw her arms around the neck of her new-found friend. “Thank-you” she mumbled through a fresh set of tears. He gave her a final hug, and she wandered numbly from the room, feeling a strangely wonderful sense of release from the shame that had dogged her for so long.
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