Witnesses – Chapter 10 – Mary

Mary – Forgiven!

I had grown up on the wrong side of town.  I never knew my father and every day had been a struggle for my mother to raise me and my older brother and three big sisters. Judas ran away when he was still a boy and I was very tiny so I do not remember much about him.    I thought I would probably not know him even if I met him face to face.  My sisters and I, as we grew, did what we could to help one another, but we were not very close.  It was as if we knew that our lives would be difficult and full of disrepute and pain, so we grew hard shells around ourselves which feelings and insults could not penetrate.

So there we were – five women in a small house together – two rooms it was.  I suppose it was inevitable that one by one we would slip into our mother’s trade to earn bread for the support of the family. 

One day, a year or two ago, Rachel left us.  She was always the beautiful one, Rachel.  But that day she brought shame on us as she answered the summons of a man she had met who came from the centre of Jerusalem.  From the good part of town.  Normally this would have been good news, but not this time; for this man was a Roman and we hung our heads at the disgrace of it all.  Maybe I needed to work a bit harder and strengthen my shell, for I will never forget how I felt at that time.

People laughed at us, and the eminence of our clientele slipped a bit.  Because of Rachel.  I was so angry with her.  I could not understand how she could have done such a thing when she knew it would have a ripple effect that would touch our lives as well as hers.

Life continued.  It was hard and we began to do anything we could to feed ourselves.  Our mother was growing old and no longer worked.  No one wanted her – and the three of us were not beautiful like our wayward sister.  We tried to be discreet – we always had – but one day, when I was with a client a bunch of men from the Temple burst into the room.  Now I gave up hope.  My client, it seemed, was a young relative of one of the Pharisees, bringing disgrace down on this important man’s family.  They had come to fetch him away and they slapped him and shouted at him and kicked him out of the room so that he could run home.

But I was not so lucky.  Well, they wanted a scapegoat – someone on whom they could pour their anger.  They grasped my dress, such as it was, and pulled me out of the house.  The material began to tear and I cried in both fear and protest.  I had no money for a new dress and I had no idea what they were going to do with me.  The Pharisees believed in stoning to death – what hope did I have against such a powerful force?

I struggled and cried, begging for mercy, for forgiveness, for anything that would mean I could run home and hide the shame of my torn dress, place salve on my bruises and recover, to some extent the dignity I had tried to foster during the years of my humiliation.  They kicked and pulled, hit and cursed me and I fell to the ground.  But then l felt the hands that were abusing me release their hold and let me go.

Sobbing, with my arms over my head to ward off the blows that I was sure were to come, I realised that I was lying in the dust but that everyone else had stepped back.  A shadow fell over me, as if shielding me from the heat of the midday sun and a conversation erupted around me.  The Pharisees were shouting, demanding an answer from some other poor victim who had earned their wrath. 

As my sobs subsided, I became aware of the debate raging above me.  I heard my tormentors interrogate their quarry demanding to know what they should do to me as the Law of Moses commanded my death.  Too terrified even to cry out, I lay, frozen in fear.  The man stooped down, close to my head but he did not touch me.  Instead, I could see through my hair that he was writing in the dust.  He was so close to me that, in spite of the gentleness and quietness of his voice, I heard his reply.

‘Let any of you  who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,’ and he continued to write on the ground.

There was a stunned silence.  And then, after what seemed like ages, I heard footsteps.  I braced for the first stone, trembling in fear.  But none came.  Only the sound of the footsteps fading into the distance; and I realised that one by one the men were walking away. 

I was full of apprehension as I looked up and then rose to my feet.  There was one man left. 

He was standing in front of me, smiling at me, his eyes full of – compassion.  No man had ever smiled at me like that before.  No man.  Oh yes, there had been smiles of lust and cruelty, but none like this.  It was a smile that warmed my heart and began to melt away the shell I had built around myself all my life. 

For a while he said nothing to me, but then he asked, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no-one condemned you?’

His voice was so gentle and so full of love that it brought tears to my eyes. 

Not even my mother had spoken to me like that when I was small.  Ever.

‘No-one, sir,’ I whispered.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ he said.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

But how could I …?  His eyes gazed at me, seeing right into me, my fears and shame, my hopelessness and disgust at my life – and suddenly, as if a candle was lit on the darkest of nights, a gleam of hope sparked within me.  I knew that there was a way.  I had no idea what it was at that stage, but I knew that he had a way to help me change.  I did not want to leave.  I wanted this new way – but I also did not want to follow this man in a torn dress, bringing shame to him. 

‘If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,’ and he continued to write on the ground.

There was a stunned silence.  And then, after what seemed like ages, I heard footsteps.  I braced for the first stone, trembling in fear.  But none came.  Only the sound of the footsteps fading into the distance; and I realised that one by one the men were walking away. 

I was full of apprehension as I looked up and then rose to my feet.  There was one man left. 

He was standing in front of me, smiling at me, his eyes full of compassion?  No man had ever smiled at me like that before.  No man.  Oh yes, there had been smiles of lust and cruelty, but none like this.  It was a smile that warmed my heart and began to melt away the shell I had built around myself all my life. 

For a while he said nothing to me, but then he asked, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no-one condemned you?’

His voice was so gentle and so full of love that it brought tears to my eyes. 

Not even my mother had spoken to me like that when I was small.  Ever.

‘No-one, sir,’ I whispered.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ he said.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

But how could I …?  His eyes gazed at me, seeing right into me, my fears and shame, my hopelessness and disgust at my life – and suddenly, as if a candle was lit on the darkest of nights, a gleam of hope sparked within me.  I knew that there was a way.  I had no idea what it was at that stage, but I knew that he had a way to help me change.  I did not want to leave.  I wanted this new way – but I also did not want to follow this man in a torn dress, bringing shame to him. 

He smiled at me again.  ‘Go,’ he said, and I turned and ran home.

Sarai was there.  She looked up as I burst into the room. 

‘What happened to you?’  She demanded in her abrupt way. 

‘I have met a man who has changed my life,’ I said, gasping for breath. ‘Lend me your other dress, Sarai, please, please.  Oh, hurry, Sarai!  I must go back to him before I lose him.  Come with me – he can change your life too.’ 

Sarai started to laugh but the look on my face cut her laughter short.

‘You mean it don’t you, Mary?’ she said.

‘Yes, Sarai, I do.  Come, let’s go, let’s go.’ 

But she would not come.  She grumbled as she always did, but she did let me have her dress and I raced back through the streets. 

The man had gone.  I spent the next days searching for him.  I heard rumours of a Teacher; a Healer; a Rabbi.  I heard that he travelled around with a group of friends.    But I could not find any of them anywhere.

I begged and cajoled, and borrowed and, worked to get some money together.  Somehow I wanted to thank this man who had made such a difference in my life.  My work had changed.  Now I ran errands or helped with children.  The money was not as good but it was sufficient for my purpose – to purchase the most expensive gift I could find that would express my thanks to him.

Then, one day I heard that the man would be dining with Simon the Tanner.  I knew Simon.  He was a distant relative of my mother’s.  Of course he had disowned us long ago, but I knew some of the girls who worked in his home; enough to be able to join them in the kitchen.

They were busy; too busy to take any notice of me when I slipped out of the kitchen into the central room in the house.  And there he was, sitting at the table surrounded by men – Pharisees, teachers of the law, friends.  None of them noticed me either.  I carried my jar – my gift for him – and they must have thought it was wine.

As I reached him, I knelt down beside him and, breaking my jar of sweet perfume, I poured it over his feet in an act that filled my whole being with a sense of reverence.  His feet were dusty – no one had offered any water to wash in this very lavish house.  The basic gesture of hospitality was missing.  And there were no towels, so, weeping now, I dried his feet with my hair.  I had never dared to hope I could do anything for him that no one else had done just as he had done something so very special for me.  Yet in this simple act I knew that that was exactly what I was doing.

Voices raised in anger.  One was mean.

‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.’ the man said .

As I looked up I felt my blood run cold.  In an instant of recognition I could see this man looked like my mother and Sarai.  Judas!  My brother was here with the Teacher.  I began to get up, wanting to greet him, but other voices were complaining now and I felt the Teacher’s hand on my head.  He stopped the men’s objections with a gesture of his other hand and his quiet voice.

‘Leave her alone.  It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.’

I did not understand the words he spoke, but as I smiled at him, I heard a snort of derision and Judas, who was standing behind the Teacher, turned and stormed out of the room.  The Teacher smiled at me and helped me to my feet.  I was determined then to follow him and never let him out of my sight.  But Judas unleashed evil in the next few days which changed everything.  We thought that evil had won and we had lost a friend when they arrested the Teacher.  But we had not.  In spite of the horror of the next days, my life was never to be the same – but that is another story.

About Mandy Hackland

My love in life is to encourage others to deepen their relationship with God. I write devotional material, stories and small group studies with that in mind. I live in South Africa and also love spending time in the bush, bird watching and walking. I have moved to the coast and am enjoying the green spaces and beautiful vistas that surround me, reminding me of God's grace every day.
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