MARY - AN EASTER STORY
"You'll never amount to anything." My father's words were both a curse and a self-fulfilling prophecy. You see - I believed him.
The Romans taxed us heavily and a lot of people found it difficult to manage, so some children were sold into slavery. At least I escaped that fate but, even as a teenager, I had a hunger for the finer things in life.
People had always told me that I was beautiful and I prided myself on my thick, black hair that hung down my back like a silk curtain when it was not plaited and coiled on top of my head. I knew that men found me attractive and I used my looks to make money. Lots of money.
I ran away from home at the age of sixteen with some money that I took from my mother's purse and found some decent lodgings. No one from my family came after me, which was a disappointment as I half hoped to be rescued from myself. I was alone in a strange town and terrified.
The first night that I sold myself will forever be etched on my memory. After bathing and applying a little too much perfume, I made up my eyes, put on my jewellery, dressed in my most provocative outfit and went out into the street where the harlots plied their trade. My heart was pounding and my knees weak but I was hungry and I had no other way of making a living. Some of the other girls were nasty to me and told me to clear off but I pretended to be tough and stood my ground. Pretty soon a middle-aged man approached me and asked me, 'how much?' and, when I told him, he followed me home. He kept his distance so that no one in the street would know what he was up to and I could feel his lustful eyes burning in my back. My fate was sealed with that transaction and there was no going back.
Soon I had a string of men who visited me on a regular basis. It was easy work but my self-loathing increased and the empty compliments from my customers never erased my father's cruel words. He wanted a son and he got me instead. I was a mistake and a stupid one at that. While the men were using my body I would disassociate myself and pretend that I was somewhere else. This was a secret place that I remembered from my childhood by the sea. I would stand on the seashore; the sun warming my back while the cleansing waves caressed my feet and whispered that I was loved. But I did not know what love was. The whispering was an unfulfilled promise. When it was all over the money would sometimes be thrown on the bed and the kisses and compliments stopped immediately. Did I hate men? I suppose I did but no more than I hated myself.
My room had become a scented haven with the bed centre stage. It was dark and cool and I rarely went out in daylight and avoided the women in the town. They loathed me - Mary, the outcast, the fallen woman.
Then it all changed when I met him. When I drew near to him it was as if all the evil inside me came to the surface, like the scum that needs skimming from a soup. I had always been a flirt as it brought me so much attention and, as I tried to sidle up to him, he spoke sternly and with great authority, "Come out of her you unclean spirits!" And before I could blink I found myself on the floor. The rest is like a dream but I do remember screaming and then going limp. Someone said, "Is she dead?" But some of his disciples helped me to my feet and I arose a new person. Later, he told me that I had been delivered from some evil spirits and I can believe it because I felt so different after that day. I stopped my sinful lifestyle and my desire for expensive clothes and jewels vanished. That craving for things never fulfilled me anyway. It was no longer an instinct for me to flirt as I had been delivered from all of my rejection. He accepted me, honoured me and forgave me. I discovered unconditional love for the first time in my life and I felt clean, as if those waves in my dreams had washed over my whole body and not just my feet.
From then on I followed him wherever he went, together with some other women and the disciples. We all drank in his words like bees taking in sweet nectar. I wasn't the only one who was healed and delivered. It was a daily occurrence. There was an element of gossip at that time and some cruel people said that I was in love with him. Yes, I loved him but it was a sisterly love - that's all.
I wanted to repay him for giving me dignity but somehow didn't know how to begin. One day my heart was bursting with love for him and I knelt on the stone floor of my bedroom and prayed. "How can I show him my gratitude?" Immediately, I knew what I had to do and rushed to the hiding place behind a stone in my small kitchen where I kept my money. Holding my head up high, I walked past the women who were chatting in the street, past the elders by the gate and made my way to the perfumers. I chose the most expensive alabaster jar of anointing perfume and handed over a lot of money. My heart was full of joy as I took it home, holding it as if it was a fragile baby. The baby I never had.
It was a busy time, not long before the eight-day feast of Passover and I knew that he would be having dinner that evening with Simon, the leper. He was a Pharisee, Simon, and religious to the letter. I knew what he thought of me, but I didn't care.
The door was open and I could smell food. As I peeped in I could see him there, reclining at the table with a lot of men, some of whom I knew. They were in the middle of the meal and the chatter was noisy. As usual, everyone was having a good time in his presence and his stories were so thought provoking. As I saw him, that feeling of gratitude and love swept over me like a breaker and, feeling bold, I walked straight in. There was a gasp of horror that a woman should interrupt their gathering in such a bold way. I ignored them as his eyes welcomed me.
All the others in the room seemed to disappear as I floated towards him gripping the alabaster jar. I was on a mission and no one was going to stop me now that I'd come this far. He stretched out his hand in a welcoming gesture and his eyes were brimming with love. I broke open the jar, which was like my old life, broken and brittle - and the fragrance within hit the room. As I anointed his head with the sweet fragrance my tears ran down my cheeks and mingled with the perfume. Weak with adoration of him, I fell to my knees. And still the tears flowed, making his feet wet. It was like my daydream of those waves washing my feet when I needed to escape the harsh reality of my life. I could hear the voices now, harsh, hard and full of righteous indignation.
"Get her out of here."
"Who does she think she is? It's a disgrace."
"If he was a true prophet then he'd know what sort of a woman she is."
"Such waste. That perfume would have cost a year's wages."
On and on the tirade went but he ignored them and looked at me with those eyes of acceptance. By now his feet were so wet with my tears that I unpinned my hair and another gasp of horror went about the room as it fell across my shoulders - such was the wantonness of my gratitude. And, as I kissed those beloved feet that had tramped the countryside, villages and towns, I used my long tresses to wipe them dry. Never was there such a man as this. He was my king. I lost all sense of time until he took my hand and gently pulled me to my feet.
Simon, the Pharisee, shouted, "The money could have been used to feed the poor. This is a travesty."
Still looking at me he replied, "What she has done for me is a good thing. You welcomed me to your home but did not wash my feet but she has washed my feet with her tears. You did not kiss me when I came in but she has not stopped kissing my feet, neither did you anoint my head with oil but she has done that too. You will always have the poor with you but you will not always have me. See, she has anointed me for my burial. Wherever the good news is preached this story of what she has done will be spoken of."
Before anyone could respond he told another of his stories. This time it was about two men who owed money to a banker. One owed a lot and one a little. Then he asked a question to the accusers.
"Which one will be the more grateful? The one who owed a lot or the one who owed a little?"
"The one who owed a lot of course." Simon answered.
"And the one who has been forgiven much will be more grateful." He said.
Nobody could deny the fact that I, such a sinner, had been forgiven much. And with that he said to me, "Your sins have been forgiven, so go in peace." This caused another uproar and people said that only God could forgive sins. I knew that I had been forgiven so this gave me a lot to think about.
Not long after Judas, who never had any time for me and was very vocal is his disgust of the so-called waste of money, betrayed him. I heard that he had taken thirty pieces of silver from the Pharisees. After his arrest they crucified my Lord with a criminal each side of him.
My heart broke as I stood and watched this horrifying scene. I felt sick as I stood on the edges of the jeering crowd and beheld him. Even from that distance I could see that he'd been tortured and his face beaten beyond recognition. Of course I prayed for him and expected the angels to rescue him, but they did not. He looked at me from that cross of torment and I felt him say in my heart that he was dying for me. Then it went very dark and I steadied myself against a tree as I thought I would faint. But I didn't pass out; the sky had become black as night and then he cried out in a loud voice and died. I felt as if my world had come to an end. He was the first man to ever value me, show me respect and, in so doing, he had restored me.
What would happen now that he was not around to make life worth living? I did not sleep that night but wept and prayed. Why did he have to go so soon?
But an amazing thing happened and he rose from the dead. I even spoke to him after his resurrection and now I can live my life with such a hope in my heart. I can't help it, but I tell everyone that Jesus is alive.
This story is available in Sue's collection of short stories,Petals in the Sand and Other Short Stories,which is for sale as an e-book on Amazon.