She knew that she shouldn’t be there. To tell the truth, there wasn’t anywhere she was supposed to be publicly and openly. The rules of society decreed that a woman like her belonged to the dark and hidden corners of life, out of sight and out of mind, scuttling and skulking at the margins and corners of life like some species of human cockroach that could disappear into a crack before anyone had to acknowledge her presence. She was the scapegoat of their secret shame, bearing away their small town’s darkness into her own secret wilderness, so that they could walk unashamed in the open day. The fact that none of her notorious sins had been committed alone – could not have been by definition – was an irrelevance; she carried the shame of that sweat-soaked perfumed darkness while the men who had shared it with her paid for it with nothing except money.
Yet here she was, heavily veiled, to be sure, but vulnerable nonetheless. Money could insulate her; veils could hide her (for a little while at least); she had even learned to hold her head up and ignore the hissing whispers; but she knew of no protection from the acid shame that was eating up her soul. And it was because of that shame that she had come.
It was all because of the teacher, Jesus. She had been intent on slipping past the edges of the crowd when she heard him. He did not teach like any other rabbi, he was talking about a shepherd seeking a strayed sheep, a woman turning her house inside out to find a fallen coin, a father who threw away his dignity to welcome home a shameful son. His words were hope and life, perhaps God would still receive her even if people wouldn’t?
He had stretched her mind with wonder and her heart to breaking point, and so she came bearing with her the most precious thing she had, and slipped, along with the usual onlookers, into the Pharisee’s house, clutching her most precious possession. It was all she had to give, for, having sold herself for mere money, she no longer knew that she herself was worth more than all the perfumes of the world.
And she stood, and she listened, tasting the mercy of his words, until her heart was overwhelmed and her fears overcome in longing, and, casting aside her anonymity she ran to him and fell at his feet in tears. He did not draw away from her as if her very presence was pollution, and as she cried on his feet she felt all the shame and self-loathing draining from her. Lost in gratitude, she wiped his feet with her own hair and poured out the perfume she had brought. Its sweetness was nothing compared to the sweetness that sang in her soul. She heard the mocking, rejecting pharisaic voices, but they didn’t matter any more. She would never be welcome here, in the Pharisee’s home, she would probably never be welcome in her own hometown, but she was welcomed into the Kingdom of God, and she would follow this Jesus wherever He went.
She dared to raise her tear-blurred eyes and look at him, and tune in to the conversation going on above her head. “She loves much because she has been forgiven much,” said Jesus.
Yes. Yes indeed.