She thought of him as the Beautiful One.
Odd designation for a man, to be sure. And at first glance, his face was not handsome; he would not appear exceptional, were it not for the multitudes following and crowding him.
She had seen him days earlier, surrounded by his close friends and the usual crush of the desperate, the merely curious, and the antagonistic. She entered the crowd and was bounced about like driftwood on a sea of bodies. Yet when she was able to push her way close, she sensed immediately he was not like other men she had known. There was strength, yes, bordering on the sternness she had always experienced from her father and brothers. But this strength had another quality. Gentleness and kindness also surrounded him like the air, blew as a breeze of sweet aroma, the atmosphere perfumed around the rugged contours of his face.
And his eyes! A mysterious abyss, unfathomable yet intimate. His focused gaze inexorably powerful, filled with understanding, pity, mercy. He had passed by on the road and turned to look at her; she felt as if her body was a glass bottle, all her careful concealment stripped away, self-protection vanquished in an instant. He seemed to look to the depths of her broken emptiness.
Now, just this evening, she had learned that he was visiting the home of Shim’on, one of the P’rushim. She would most certainly not be welcome there, but she determined that she would go anyway. No matter what her reception, despite what men would say or do to her, she would go and see Yeshua, the Beautiful One, the man with forgiveness in his eyes and life in his touch.
She took a circuitous route through the city, to ensure that no one could follow her without her notice. Arriving at the proper house, she saw there was a crowd, and felt a momentary panic well up inside her. But, she knew she must see him, no matter the cost. I will be brave as Esther, she thought. If I die, I die!
With surprising strength, born of her desperation, she elbowed and clawed past the men blocking the entrance, the hangers on, the self-appointed sentries who threw up their hands in horror and attempted to stop her. She would not be deterred; she would not be denied. Stumbling, about to fall, she pushed through and spotted Yeshua, his back to her as he reclined at table, listening to the friendly banter of friends as they laughed and ate.
She smelled stale sweat mixed with the comforting aroma of warm bread and sweet wine, pungent, earthy. As she approached her target from behind, she saw the men around Yeshua suddenly frozen in various poses as if all time had ceased. Overcome by emotion, she fell to her knees at his feet and began to wail with pain as well as a sudden, astonished gratitude. She was swept away in a tide of painful, sweet, cleansing peace.
She saw that his feet still bore traces of the dust of his day’s travel. Had they not been customarily washed? She reached into her robes and pulled out an alabaster box filled with expensive ointment; with hands trembling from the force of her sobs, she emptied the contents upon Yeshua’s feet. Then she reached up and behind her head to unclasp her hair, which caused a gasp of offended astonishment from the surrounding men. She shook her hair free of constraint, grasped a handful, and began to wipe his feet.
She knew this was highly improper. She knew what the men in the room thought of her. She knew that they were aware of her past, what she had done. When she walked through the village, head down, her eyes averted with shame, she still noticed their haughty looks, heard their snorts of derision as she passed by in the thoroughfares.
A sinful woman! Unclean! Unclean!
Now she dared touch the honored guest, in a leaders home. How dare she act with such brazen intimacy?
Uncaring, undaunted, she continued the massage, stroking, perfuming, adoring; with uninhibited devotion that was sensual yet utterly blameless, virginal, made chaste by the purity of the one before her. As she worked the ointment into Yeshua’s feet with her long hair, a lovely aroma filled the room.
Only dimly aware now of anyone else, she perceived that Yeshua had broken the silence evoked by her actions. He was speaking, but not to her. He seemed to know something she only dimly suspected.
“Shim’on,” he said, “I want to ask you a question.”
“A certain creditor had two debtors, one of whom owed ten times the amount of the other. Neither was able to pay him, so he forgave both debts. Now, which of them do you suppose was more grateful? Who do you think loved him more?”
Shim’on scratched his beard and looked at the floor. Eventually, he answered, almost as if he were speaking to himself, “I suppose it would be the one who had the larger debt canceled.”
Yeshua’s warm breath ruffled the hair atop the woman’s head as he sighed. “Yes. Of course, you have judged correctly.” Then she felt his calloused hand tenderly reach under her chin, and with gentle pressure, tilt her face upward.
“You see this woman?”
Yeshua was still speaking to Shim’on, but he was looking directly at her. Piercing her being with that frightening, wonderful intensity. His words were a caress.
“Shim’on, when I came into your house, you did not give me water to wash my feet, but she has washed them with the multitude of tears flowing from her gratitude, and dried them with her hair!”
She felt on fire, as she was consumed by the inferno of compassion flaming from Yeshua’s touch. His words burned away shame.
“You did not give me the customary kiss of greeting.” Touching her lips with his fingertips, he looked over again at Shim’on. “Since she knelt down, she has not ceased kissing my feet.”
He lifted his right hand, and placed it upon her head, kindling a new blaze. “You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has given me all her fragrance and poured it upon my feet!”
Her view of Yeshua wavered and dimmed as her eyes filled again and overflowed, tears spilling unhindered from her cheeks, splashing the space between them. Yeshua turned his face to her again.
“I tell you the truth: her sins, which are many, are forgiven her for the depth of her love.” With a smile, he slowly shook his head. “But the one who is forgiven only a little, loves little.”
His words continued to resonate in the room now fallen silent. She did not hear even a faint stir of breathing. To her, nothing mattered but the wonder before her. He wrapped his hands around her cheeks, cupping her face as a priceless jewel.
“Your sins are forgiven you.”
She heard a faint, intrusive buzzing behind the two of them; the other men, angry hornets, grumbled among themselves. “Who does this man think he is, forgiving sins? What presumption.”
Such petty judges were blind to the tableau of love and mercy played out before them. They had experienced Adonai’s invitation to them also to come and dine on love and mercy, but their bellies, full of self-righteous bitterness, kept them from partaking.
Yeshua still looked at her, tenderness crinkling the skin around his eyes. “Go in peace. Your trust has saved you.”
She rose slowly and stood, swaying on uncertain legs. Yeshua reached out to steady her–a final sweetness, a benediction of touch.
She did not want to leave, but she could not stay. Yeshua’s gaze upheld her as she walked out, head raised; forgiven much, clean, her heart overflowing; love and purity, lavishly bestowed upon her, beamed like sunlight piercing the darkness.