1996-08-15 - Why She Wept
During the week I was listening to an old Don Francisco album, specifically to a ballad that describes the actual meeting between Jesus, the harlot and Simon the Pharisee described in these verses. I was struck by the fact that we have no indication as to what touched this woman so deeply. She burst into the home of Simon to anoint Jesus with a precious perfume and cried tears over his feet and dried them with her hair. I backed up a page or so and saw that this happened shortly after Jesus resurrected the widow of Nain's son. There is no indication that Jesus had left Nain. My mind began to wander over the possibilities. What follows is a bit of a radical departure from our normal devotional. A bit of surmising on my part, about the events that may have led up to the meeting at Simon's dinner table.
There is a scent of strong perfume in the air and a flash of colorful clothing as she turns the corner. Not an unattractive woman, she captures a gaze or two, at least for a second. The glances soon turn away, as quickly as they were drawn. A sadness passes over her heart as she feels unworthy of even the brief, cheap attention. Her family and friends, and the townspeople of the small city where she was born and raised in, shun her. She knows in her heart it is deserved. Nain is not so large that the principal players are not known to everyone. The religious leaders of the town disdain her, and all like her, as an example of who is deserving of Gehenna. Why? She is a harlot.
The typical rhythm of the city is disturbed today. A young man, the only son of a woman already a widow, has died. He was not a customer, but a school-age friend from her neighborhood. They had played together as children. Her heart breaks for his mother, as her situation is soon to become desperate. His mother's only means of support is now gone. She tells herself it should have been herself instead of him. He was kind, patient and hard-working. The Rabbis would rightly judge him to have a place with God. She had strayed behind the crowd as it had processed toward the cemetery. Whether the crowd understood her grief, or was too wrapped up in their own she did not know. But, her presence had been tolerated thus far, at a distance. She was permitted her remembrance.
A small group of men met the procession as it exited the city. The leader stepped forward and offered some compassionate words to the grieving mother. His concern was etched on His face. Without notice, He ordered the procession to a halt. He strode purposefully to the coffin and placed His strong hand on the side. In a strong, clear voice of command He ordered, "Young man, I say to you, arise!"
Her heart leapt, wanting for an instant to believe it could be true. And just as reality began to return, it happened. The one who was dead, her friend from days gone by, sat up and began to speak, was asking to be unwrapped! The people nearby were proclaiming the miracle. Stunned, she could not pull her eyes from the man who had honored the hearts' cries of the mother, and herself. "A great Prophet has arisen among us, and God had visited His people!" The Prophet now proceeded to the center of town. The coffin, now empty, was abandoned as the growing crowd followed the small group of men. They hollered His name to the people on the rooftops of their homes. "Savior!" "A great Prophet is here!" Her heart leapt again as she followed, not making any effort to keep her distance. Savior, could he be the One? The stories that her parents and Rabbi had told her of the coming King from the time she could remember. Wasn't there something about healing hands? Her mind raced to keep up with her heart. She followed the crowd to the city square where Jesus waited for everyone to settle. He spoke with authority tempered by the same compassion that was shown to the widow. He spoke of a loving God, like a Father, not the cold rule book of Pharisees. "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give rest for your soul." No preconditions, no restrictions. He spoke to the ache of unworthiness in her heart and soul. It was Him; it had to be! She sat transfixed, makeup and tears of joy running down her cheeks. She was a mess, and she did not care. Inside, she was whole again.
As Jesus concluded His address, He was greeted by Simon the Pharisee with all ruffles and flourishes. Simon then invited Jesus to dinner at his home. What could she do to honor this one man who had returned to her her dignity and made a place for her in God's Kingdom? She had one keepsake, a gift from her father on her twelfth birthday. It had been intended for her wedding day. A day that she had long ago given up on ever seeing. No one would want her, but Jesus did. Not as a bride (little did she know), but she was acceptable to Him. That was the answer. She ran back to her small dwelling, still replete with the trappings of her former life. There, still carefully wrapped and in its place was a small, beautifully carved alabaster box. The contents were a special perfume called spikenard. It had cost her father nearly a years earnings to purchase the flask. Once opened, it could not be resealed. The box had to be broken to open it. The contents would have to be used. Was she sure? Yes. Clutching her prize, she ran off in the direction of Simon's home were Jesus would be eating. If she had any reservations about bursting through Simon's front door, they were quickly dismissed. She ran past the servants, down hallways and finally to the dining room where she saw Him again. He was reclining on a couch around the table lavishly prepared. As she walked the remaining few feet from the doorway to Jesus' feet which stretched back toward her, tears came fresh to her. As she knelt at Jesus' feet, the tears from her sobs of happiness spotted His dusty feet. Her purpose was to anoint Jesus with the nard, but his feet would have to be prepared. She began to wipe His tear covered feet with her hands, but quickly switched to her long hair. As she cried and dried His feet, she remembered again from her youth, "… how lovely are the feet of Him … who brings good news …" She kissed those beautiful feet gently several times and broke open the alabaster container. In an instant, the house was filled with the luscious fragrance. She liberally spread the ointment on Jesus' feet, hands and head.
Jesus stirred and looked at her with gracious compassion and merciful acceptance. All she had ever needed flowed into her in waves. To be accepted, and cared for and esteemed. Jesus turned to Simon and addressed him explaining that this woman (a term of respectful address, not harlot!) had honored Him were Simon had failed as host. He was now defending her, a woman, and her actions to a man in a public forum. This man who represented everything that had misrepresented God's heart to her.
Then Jesus turned back to her and spoke quietly. He reached back taking her hands in his and stood up. Then he helped her to her feet and looked her in the eye and said, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." Her faith had indeed saved her from the nightmare she had lived. Selling herself for food and shelter, dying a little more each time. Something inside had refused to let go completely. It tenaciously glowing like a candle in a storm. Her faith had burst into flame and was now a raging fire. She knew that she would somehow never be the same.
She went home for that last time. It was home no more. She changed into traveling clothes and collected a few things into a basket along with what little food she had left and a wine skin. The latch closing on the door for the last time behind her was liberating. She turned her back on that last vestiges of her old life and strode into the new. She returned to Simon's home, but respectfully waited outside. She waited only a minute when Jesus emerged and she fell into line behind Him as they headed off. She did not care to where.