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Mary's Ugly Cry

This blog has been an exciting journey for me. I have had the honor to be with many women as they overcome shame and fear in unbelievably challenging, oppressive situations. As I read the story of Mary in Luke 7, I wondered what gave Mary, a female in a male-dominated society, the determination to test unchartered territory (a woman seeking a man) during Jesus’ time? I wondered how Mary might have FELT the day she found her courage to meet Christ and then, not only meet Him, but touch Him and pour tears and perfume on Him in a society where touching a man who was not your husband was prohibited.

Below it the scripture passage for your review followed by my perception of Mary’s courageous journey into healing and restoration.

Luke 7:36-39, 40-50.

36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

(I omitted verses 40-43 because they are not where I’m focusing.- I will save that for the theologians in my group!)

44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

I’d like to help you visualize what the dining experience looked like during Middle Eastern Biblical times. Eating was done lying around a table, with one’s head close to the table while their feet extended away from the table. The right hand was exposed to eat and pass food. Jesus should have been the guest of honor. Typically, with Middle Eastern hospitality, the host (in our story the host is Simon, a rabbi or teacher) washed the feet of his guests. In the picture below, you can see 3 women behind Jesus, against the wall. That is where Mary would have been.

(Art by James Seward)

Now, we begin our story.

Mary arose early. Today was the day she planned to meet her Lord. She didn’t sleep well because her mind kept repeating what she would do when she met Him. She diligently prepared every aspect of herself- clothing, hair, fingernails… She knew He could restore her spirit and oh, how she needed restoration. She gathered her tear bottle that held the tears defining her broken life and the expensive bottle of perfume representing the hope she sought daily. This Messiah – “Would He liberate me from my shame?” She shivered with anticipation as she brushed and braided her hair and meticulously hid it under her headcover. She adjusted her tunic and wrapped her cloak around her.

Gathering her courage, she took a deep breath, walked into the exposed sunlight, and hurried to the home of Simon, the rabbi, where she knew He would be eating. As she got closer to the home, her heart began to thunder in her chest. “This is a terrible idea. What if they laugh at me? Make fun of me? Won’t let me enter?” But she inhaled, wrapped her arms around herself tightly, and prayed the Lord she believed was here would release her from her internal demons so she could salvage her life.

Seeing the room in which He sat, she caught her breath and nearly froze. But everything in her body pushed her forward and she entered, looking intently at the dusty floor, terrified. He was talking to the men, discussing something. She didn’t have any idea what they were saying. Her ears couldn’t hear. All she could do was see, Him. No turning back.

She went to where His feet were extended from the table and knelt. She stared at those dusty feet debating if she had the courage to complete her plan. After what seemed an endless internal debate, He turned His body toward her and gazed at her.

It exploded. The anguish inside her, the injustices she had endured, the grief from so many losses. She began sobbing. She grasped her tear jar and attempted to complete her well-rehearsed intentions with grace and honor. But her shoulders shuddered with grief and she messily poured out all her stored tears on those blessed feet. Only He was worthy of her sorrow. Only He would understand and tenderly cherish those tears. He silently studied her. As the grief released itself and she was no longer uncontrollably sobbing, she assessed His wonderful feet. They were dirty and nearly muddy from her tears mixed with his dirt. “NO! NO! NO!” This is not what she envisioned. She wanted to honor Him, not dirty Him.

She needed anything unsoiled to wash his feet, something worthy of Him. She remembered her hair, customarily hidden, was the purest thing she had to offer. Fingers trembling, she pulled loose her thick braid and began to wipe off the dirt and tears. Finally, after a few minutes of painstaking cleaning, she achieved success. She used the back of her hand to remove the last of the damp dust.

“Oh, the perfume. Where is my perfume?” She felt inside the folds her tunic, fumbling, trying not to panic and silently exhaled with relief as her fingers clasped that little jar. She was becoming calmer now. She had no idea how much time had passed but knew she needed to complete her task. Removing the cap from the perfume and letting the aroma pierce her senses, she grounded herself by focusing on blessing His feet. Her fingers traced his rough heels and rubbed perfume over the tops of his feet with the gentleness of a mother adoring her infant’s chubby feet. Every finger massaged gratitude into His tireless treading.

When she accomplished her mission, she heard him, Simon, discussing her. He spoke as if she was not present and reminded her Savior of her sinful past but she felt no guilt or shame. Those oppressive feelings were gone. Daring to look up from the safety of His feet into His face, what she saw overwhelmed her. His eyes embraced her soul with a compassion she barely understood. Everything else in the room faded and all she saw was Him. His mouth was moving as if he was addressing someone and instinctively she knew He was not talking to her. Relief flowed through her.

Joy rumbled within her soul. She couldn’t understand why but she knew she was close to exploding with tremendous elation. When she stared at Him now, she wanted to stand and dance- And then she heard the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48). Followed by “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50).

And just like that, she grinned at Him, now her friend. She stood with her head held high and walked with joyful confidence past the rabbis who had attempted to judge her sinful past.

Even though she experienced binding words intent to hold her down and freeze her, she did not stop searching for hope, which I believe is what drove her every moment of every day. She intuited that someone unconditionally loved her, in spite of any questionable decisions she made.

Christ sees you and wants you to carry your head high. Even in the midst of your ugly cries, please picture Him looking at you with a tender smile, waiting for your grief to subside, and eager to embrace you with His all-serving, unconditional love.

And thanks to my sweet sister, Heidi, who's opinion means the world to me.

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