Sunday, February 15, 2009


For today's blog, I decided to do something that I've been wanting to do for a long time. I'm posting a short story. Posting a short story is not the thing that I've been wanting to do for a long time, but writing this particular story is. This post will be a little longer than usual, but the subject matter is very, very close to my heart and I think you will find that it was worth your time. Besides the story of Jesus dying for my sins, this story is my absolute all-time favorite story and I've been wanting to put it into my own words for some time now. I identify more closely with the main character in this story than with any other person in any literary tale, true or fiction. I think you will too. So, here's my version of a pretty famous story. I hope it speaks to you as much as it does to me.

Mary sat alone at the foot of her bed; bedroom door locked, and stared at the alabaster jar on the dresser in front of her. On the other side of the door, the house was filled with the sounds and smells of holiday meal preparations and good friends enjoying a day off. It was Mary’s favorite holiday and normally she would have been in the middle of the cheerful scene, helping her sister cook and trying to keep the men from sneaking bits of the meal before all was finished. But today was a bit different. Today, Mary was melancholy. Today was bittersweet. Was she the only one who noticed?

Out in the living room, the person she loved more than anyone in the world was enjoying the warmth of the food and friendship. Usually, it was Mary who was right next to him, trying to coax another story from him or just enjoying the peace that came from his presence. Now, lost in thought, she just stared at that jar, as if trying to decide the fate of the world.

So much had happened since she met him. He had literally saved her life. Mary had never had a real father. Her brother had done the best that he could after their father had died when Mary was just a child. He was an angel, but he could never replace her father. It was all her mother could do to raise Mary and her brother and sister on her own without the support and income of her husband. It wasn’t her fault that Mary had made the mistakes that she had. At a young age, Mary had discovered that men desired her company. She had been an ‘early bloomer’ and her looks had been the talk of the town. Truth be told, she didn’t exactly dislike the attention.

Mary was seventeen when her mother died. Now it was just she and her siblings, and times were hard. Mary quickly found that men were willing to pay to be with her. At first, she told herself that it was necessity. She certainly was no harlot. If the family was having a tough month, what harm would come from giving a gentleman an enjoyable evening in return for being able to eat for the rest of the month? As long as it was never a regular occurrence and providing her brother never found out about it, it was just the way things would have to be for now. Someday it would be different.

Someday it was different, indeed. Sometimes you make a decision that spirals your life out of control before you even know what is happening. Mary could never pinpoint the exact time when even she had to admit that she was indeed a harlot. Even when her brother had found out about her extra income, she still had maintained that she was only trying to help the family. Ashamed and embarrassed, her siblings had never disowned her, but it had been clear that as long as she chose to sell herself, she was not welcome in their house. Mary had no other means of making a living at that point, so in the end she was all alone…ironic since by lieu of her profession there were few nights when she was without another’s company.

It was only a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. In Mary’s culture, adultery was taken very seriously. It was an offense punishable by death. As long as Mary’s clients could remain discreet, she was never in any real danger. But just one careless word to a jealous wife or crossed co-worker could spell ruin for her. It wasn’t exactly a small town, but people talked. One day, someone talked a bit too much.

The local authorities had literally pulled Mary out of her ‘lover’s’ bed…with him in it. There was no denying her guilt. They had taken her straight to the temple courts to face the religious leaders who would decide her fate. She had a pretty good idea what that fate would be. The sun was hot, the air heavy and Mary felt very exposed, wearing only the sheet that she had managed to pull off of the bed as they dragged her out of the house. Later, she would remember thinking how tragic it was that she would die naked and shamed.

As the authorities rough-handedly turned her over to the religious leaders, she sensed something that she had not felt in a very long time. She felt love; real, true love. Looking up, she laid eyes on him for the first time. In his eyes she knew that she was looking into the very source of true love itself. She only had a second to bask in that wonderful presence before the blow that knocked her to the ground struck the side of her cheek. With stars swimming through her vision, she was thrown onto the dirt in the middle of a circle of her accusers.

“Teacher,” she heard one of them say, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. Our law tells us to stone such a woman to death! What do you say, teacher?”

Here it was. The end. Mary’s life would be crushed out in a painful hail rocks, bruising limbs and tearing flesh. She closed her eyes and waited for the first blow to come.

As the seconds ticked by, Mary became more and more aware of the silence. She heard no one bending down and grabbing the large stones that had been brought in to make an example of her. No one was shouting orders or even saying a prayer for her soul. All she heard was a soft scratching sound. Finally, no longer being able to stand the tension, she opened her eyes and looked up.

She saw that everyone’s eyes were on him. The teacher. It was as if they were waiting for his permission to proceed. Instead of answering them, he had bent down and was writing in the dirt with his finger! How strange. Now even Mary was genuinely perplexed.

Again, the leaders asked him what he would do with this adulterous woman. Now he stood up and returned their gaze. Again, the love in those eyes seemed to wash over Mary and for a moment she forgot that the fate of her life was being decided in front of her. Looking intently back at the religious leaders and lawyers gathered in front of him, finally the teacher spoke.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” was all he said. He then quietly stooped down and began again to write in the dirt with his finger.

This was unheard-of! Mary wondered if the leaders would throw the teacher into the middle of the courtyard with her and stone the both of them together! Instead, as Mary looked around in confusion, a wonderful thing started to happen. Some of the older leaders started to hang their heads. Was that shame that she noticed in their expressions? As the younger men looked around for a cue from their elders, the older ones started to walk away, saying nothing! As the reality of the teacher’s lesson started to sink in, eventually even the younger, more eager leaders dropped the rocks that were already in their hands and began to walk off. Finally, Mary was left all alone with the teacher and a few of his followers.

The teacher stood up and walked over to Mary. He kneeled down and with gentle hands helped her to her feet. Wiping away a tear from her eye, he asked her, “Woman, where did everyone go? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” whispered Mary.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” declared the teacher. “Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

From that day on, Mary had indeed left her former life behind and became a follower of the teacher, the man who had saved her life and had shown her love when she had done nothing to deserve it. There was something about this teacher. It was as if everything good and right in the Universe started with him. His love and compassion for not only Mary, but for everyone with whom he came into contact was more genuine and real than the hair on Mary’s head. She had never met anyone like him. There simply wasn’t anyone like him. She knew that she could never express her gratitude or love for him with words.

And so she now sat, staring at an alabaster jar on her dresser. A special jar. Inside that jar was the only expensive material possession that Mary had ever owned. It was the culmination of years of hope and prayers from her mother. The jar contained perfume. Not just any perfume. This potion was precious, brought in caravans from the Orient and one of the most expensive luxuries of Mary’s time. The perfume in that alabaster jar cost the equivalent of an average year’s wages. Mary’s mother had managed to scrape enough savings aside in the seventeen years that she had been with Mary to buy enough perfume to fill the jar…for a special reason. That jar was Mary’s wedding dowry.

The teacher had saved her life and had taught her that God wasn’t concerned about her past. It was her future that God cared about and now that she was His child, that future would be bright. The alabaster jar represented all of her hopes and dreams of finding a husband and having a family. But how could any of that even be possible without the gift of new life that the teacher had given her? She had tried so hard in the past few years to express her gratitude to him, but words never seemed to do her thoughts justice.

Lately, the teacher had been telling his followers some disturbing things. Everyone knew that the religious leaders didn’t like him very much, but what he had been telling her was starting to scare her. The teacher said that he would be going to the capital city soon, and that the rulers there were going to kill him. How he knew this, she couldn’t guess, but he had never been wrong about this sort of thing yet. The things she had seen him do for others…you would have to be stupid or asleep not to take what he said seriously. The thing was; the teacher had also told them that he would come back to life three days after they killed him. Mary wasn’t sure if he had been speaking figuratively or literally, but there was a sense of urgency to his words.

Staring at the jar, Mary knew what she had to do. She had to show the teacher with her actions what she knew her words could never express. Besides, if he really was going to die, he would understand the dual symbolism of what she was about to do.

Mary stood up and took the alabaster jar from the top of the dresser. She walked to the door, took a breath, and opened it. She knew that her sister would be in the kitchen and decided to go straight to the living room where the teacher was sitting in case Martha would try to talk her out of this. As she walked into the room, the teacher looked up and his eyes met hers. In that one glance, Mary knew that the teacher understood what she was about to do.

Slowly, Mary threaded her way through her friends in the living room. For the most part, no one noticed what she was carrying. With her heart pounding in her chest she came to stand before where the teacher was sitting. He looked at her and Mary knew right then that she had made the correct decision. The love and understanding in his eyes washed away all of her doubt. Carefully, she took the lid off of the jar.

By now, most of her other friends in the house had noticed Mary and what she was carrying. Little by little, conversations stopped and attentions began to focus on her. She didn’t care. She was content in the knowledge that she would finally be able to express her true thanks to her beloved teacher.

He just looked at her, smiled and nodded. As the sweet aroma of the perfume began to overpower the hearty smell coming from the kitchen, Mary began to pour the perfume on the teacher’s head. The cleansing potion trickled down his brow, and tears began to flow from Mary’s eyes. Overcome with emotions of love and thankfulness, Mary’s knees grew weak and she found herself kneeling at the teacher’s feet. Pouring out the rest of the bottle’s precious contents on the teacher’s road-weary feet, Mary then bathed those feet with her tears, now flowing in torrents.

The room was silent except for the sounds of Mary’s sobs of “Thank you” and of the gentle kisses that she was placing on the teacher’s feet.

God had given Mary a beautiful head of hair. Mary now used that hair to wipe the tears from the teacher’s feet and dry the perfume. So lost in her devotion and thanks to her beloved teacher, Mary sat on her knees with her head on his feet as time seemed to come to a stop. Eventually, she was aware of a gentle hand on her cheek. Looking up for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, her eyes again met his. The look in those eyes told her that he had understood everything that her words were never able to convey. She knew that her dowry had just been used for something vastly more important than her wedding. In that instant, she knew that her teacher would indeed die for her and that he would live again, even if she didn’t know how. She knew that in some way, she had just become a part of the most important event that would ever take place.

Later, some would accuse Mary of being frivolous and try to reprimand the teacher for letting her ‘waste’ such a valuable treasure in such a way. The teacher shrugged their criticism off with a few simple words. He told them that Mary was preparing him for his burial, even if she didn’t know it. He told those who said that at least the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor that it is indeed important to look after the poor, but that he himself would not always be with them, as would the poor. Mary had made the correct choice, and they would all understand that soon enough. Moreover, he made it clear that Mary’s act of devotion had touched him so deeply that wherever the teacher’s story is told throughout the rest of history, what Mary did for him will also be told, in memory of her.

This is why I am writing down these words. The teacher is Jesus. Mary’s story is real. We can all identify with her. All of us were filthy, lost sinners deserving of the death penalty. Just as He did with Mary, Jesus chose not to convict us for our sins. Instead, he took the punishment for us. He died, and just like he promised – he rose from the dead three days later, having paid for all of our mistakes in full. If that doesn’t make you want to kneel at his feet and bathe them in your tears, you probably need to check for a pulse. Thank you, Mary Magdalene, for giving us an example of the proper response to Christ’s love. And thank you most of all, Jesus, for taking my burdens for me and paying a price that I could never pay. I can’t wait to thank you in person.

Note: This story was taken from passages from the Bible in John chapter 8, Mark chapter 14 and Matthew chapter 26. There is some arguement as to whether or not the Mary from Bethany and Mary Magdalene were indeed the same person. Most likely they were, but even if Mary the former prostitute and the Mary at the party were two different people, the point of the story remains the same. Mary, whether they were one and the same or two different Marys, had been forgiven of her sins by Jesus and loved him more deeply than words could ever express. She chose to express her love in a way that cost her a lot. She is one of my biggest heros.

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