She stands in the middle of the street and stares at the door. A modest house, perhaps, but it still looms in front of her, dark and menacing in the twilight. She takes a long, slow breath, and she can feel the tears beginning to form behind her eyes. She tries to pinch them off, but it’s no use. They start to trickle, one by one, down her cheeks, dripping off her chin and landing soundlessly in the dirt street. And that’s when the doubts begin– the little voices inside that she’s come to know so well:
You don’t deserve to be here, they say.
They’ll never let me in, she thinks to herself, They know who I am, what I am. And He, He probably won’t even speak to me. He’s a prophet. He’ll know. He’ll see what kind of person I am. He’ll see. And He’ll turn me away.
Everything inside her says to run, to turn away from this errand and go back to her life. True, it’s a life she hates, but at least she knows the rules. She knows how to get by. The jar in her hands is proof of that.
She stops. The jar.
Her entire life has led up to this jar. It’s perfume, expensive perfume– the kind only great ladies can afford. Once upon a time she thought, she really believed, that possessing something like this, something so lady-like, would bring her peace, dignity, and happiness.
What a joke I turned out to be. She thinks to herself, cradling the jar like a child. Here I thought if I smelled like a great princess, maybe I’d start to feel like one. Instead, every time I’m near it I feel like more of a whore. Let’s face it– I can never have dignity. I don’t deserve it. No one will ever look at me and see someone worthy of a treasure like this perfume. No. This should belong to someone who deserves it. Someone great. Someone like Him.
The white stone is smooth under her hands as she caresses it, and she gives up on holding back the tears anymore. It looks so wrong, this precious treasure sitting in her arms.
You are dirty, she reminds herself, You are ugly, inside and out. No one will ever want you. No one will ever love you. This is who you are– worthless. And no trinket, no matter how expensive, will ever change that.
And at that point every ounce of shame that she has ever felt, every rejection, every shun, every ounce of guilt, every moment of self-doubt, and every self-deprecating thought she’s ever had swarms on her at once, and they hit her like a blow to the stomach. She doubles over in almost physical pain, sobbing and clutching the jar, terrified in the midst of her hopelessness that she might drop it.
In her haze, she stops thinking about what people will think when they see her here. She just has to get to him, to Jesus. She has heard so much about this man, how he heals the sick, raises the dead, and feeds the hungry. He is kind and compassionate, they say. He loves even the unlovely, he eats with tax collectors and sinners.
I saw him. He’s so pure, so amazing. I have to be near him, to let him know. Somehow I have to offer this to him. If I could just get a blessing from him. If I could just find out...
And then she does see him, reclining at the table with his back to her. She doesn’t even see the other guests, not even Simon. She only sees Jesus.
Stumbling over her own feet, she makes her way over to him and falls down. And somehow, being in his presence shines an even brighter spotlight on everything she’s ever done wrong, every mistake she’s ever made, and every way she’s ever turned away from God. The shame is palpable as she cries harder and harder, her tears soaking his feet. He radiates purity, and next to him she feels so small, so dirty, she finds herself kissing his feet over and over again, drying them with her hair.
The jar. She fumbles for it, opening it and spilling it all over his feet. The smell is heavenly, and she knows he deserves it. And for one brief moment, she knows that she has finally done one good thing in her life. After all the horrible mistakes she has made FINALLY she has done one thing that is truly worthwhile.
And then she feels the stares. Simon’s eyes bore into her back, and the shame washes over her again. She blushes, suddenly aware of how this whole thing must look. And suddenly what she has done doesn’t seem so beautiful anymore.
I’ve embarrassed him, she thinks with a shudder. Her sobs begin subside under the weight of fear and sheer exhaustion, and she braces herself for his rebuke even as she continues to kiss his feet.
I love you, she wants to say it out loud, but the words only ring in her head, I love you and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what I’ve done, for who I’ve been, for who I am. I love you and I’m sorry. Please understand, I had to see you, I had to show you my love. Please forgive me. Please love me back. I know I’m not worth loving. I know what I am, but I want you to see me. I want you to love me, too. Please, please love me.
But the other voices, her condemning voices, shoot back at her immediately.
You idiot! Look at what you’ve done. You haven’t done one decent thing in your entire life, and here you are asking for love from a man who is so superior to you that you don’t even deserve to be here kissing his feet. You’re trash, kid. And, any minute now, he’s gonna let you know that.
As the tears abate little by little, her heart grows more and more heavy. Of course he’s not going to love her. Of course he won’t forgive her, especially not for the scene she has just caused. So she waits for the rebuke to come.
And it does, just not in the way she expects.
“Simon,” Jesus says, “I have something to tell you.”
She can feel it as all the eyes in the room shift from her to Jesus.
Simon, obviously startled, answers, “Tell me, teacher.”
And everyone in the room is captivated by Jesus’ strange answer.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon, confused, replies, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
Intrigued, and somewhat less frightened now, the woman raises her head just a bit, and looks at Jesus’ face. His mouth curves into a little half-smile, and he says to Simon, “You have judged correctly.”
Then he turns to her. His eyes are deep, kind. And suddenly all of the voices that have been hounding her fade into the background. Where before she couldn’t bear to look at him, now she can’t bear to look away.
He begins to speak again, still to Simon.
“Do you see this woman? He says, I came into your house. You didn’t give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
And he says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
She’s stunned. This can’t be possible, she tells herself, and the voices break back in, screaming at her. Everything they’re saying is familiar to her. She’s worthless. She’s stupid. She’s ugly. Over and over and over again they berate and belittle her. But suddenly another voice breaks into her thoughts. It’s Jesus.
Who? Who will you listen to? I know you. I know who you are better than your own voices ever will know you. I see you down to the core of your being. You are beautiful, little one. I love you exactly as you are. You are a child of God, the crown of creation. That is who you are. That is what you are. Everything else is lies. And, darling, I know– I know that the lies are familiar, comforting almost. But I offer you the truth. I offer you the chance to listen to my voice, the voice of truth, rather than your own. Who will you listen to? Who will you trust?
As her tears begin to dry, she makes a decision. It would be easy, she decides, to go on living in the shame she has built her life and identity around, but that’s not what she wants. Gathering all her courage, she makes her choice.
You, Jesus. I choose to listen to you. I choose to trust you. I choose to let you, and not my own voices, determine who I am.
The other guests begin to murmur, asking among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus ignores them, still focusing on her, and with a smile says to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
And that’s what she does. She stands up and leaves, her heart suddenly light, free. And from then on she lives her life from a very different perspective.