A Fragrant Giftby: Caroline Hand //// December 1, 2020
Imagine you are the wild, desperate woman who anointed Jesus with perfume and tears (Luke 7:37-50). All your life you have been known for being promiscuous. To you, your way of life was simply survival — moving from one man to the next in order to have a roof over your head and food at your table. At first, this kind of living was a thrill. Secrets and gifts. But as your reputation became known, you attracted men who weren’t so kind and giving.
At first, for your services, you received decadent foods and expensive perfumes. Now, you work for scraps. And barely have enough to get by. The only treasure you still own is the fragrant oil given to you by your first lover kept hidden in your small tent. In your heart, you still cherish that first man. But, since then, you had done evils unspeakable and your body felt worn, even though you were still in your twenties.
Your mornings consisted of weeping while eating your breakfast of barley bread crumbs and trying not to think about the night before: who you had spent it with and the bruises that had been left on your body. Days meant getting spit on by the Pharisees and keeping to the edge of town attempting to get work for the coming evening. Day after day you considered selling your lone possession of any worth, your perfumed oil, just so that your hunger would be satisfied for a while. But each time you came to that point of desperation and retrieved the alabaster jar from the bottom of your basket of clothes, you would feel the smooth, cool stone on your palm and smell the rich scent emanating from within. And you couldn’t do it. You’d always put it back in its hiding place.
One day, as you sit in the shadows of the bright noonday waiting for a man to claim you as his for the night, a different sort of man, unlike all the others, approaches. He kneels down next to you and you expect him to ask for a price. But instead, he speaks directly to your worn, desperate soul and states, “My daughter, your sins are forgiven.”
And in that single moment, the haze you have been living in, the dullness, the pain, seem to lift. And it is as if clarity and light filled your vision instead. It had been a long time since you had wanted to live this life of sin, but now, instead of feeling chained to your past choices, you feel…free from them all. You look into his eyes, really look. Everyone’s faces these days had seemed to blur together, but now, in this moment, his face is perfect, clear, crisp. You can’t remember the last time you had seen any emotion besides anger and lust on a man’s face, but compassion and joy are etched into his.
As you keep gazing into his eyes, he says again, “Your sins have been forgiven.” As if reminding you. As if knowing, you might not believe. Tears leak from your eyes. But not from grief and humiliation and hunger like before. But from joy. You feel in your heart a transformation happening. As if from the barren, desert ground a flower began to sprout. The man leans forward, towards you and gently kisses your forehead. You feel redemption from all the ways men have used you in the past.
“Follow me,” the man kindly offers. You look to him in disbelief. Yes, your soul answers. You manage to nod. He helps you to your feet and you follow him in awe. He enters the main street where another man shouts out. “Rabbi, where have you been? Everyone has been looking for you, Jesus.”
“I have been accomplishing the will of my Father.” He replies softly.
A crowd begins to gather and the rabbi teaches. Each word seems better than life itself. You cannot imagine a future day without being next to this man, listening to him speak. As the afternoon turns to evening, a Pharisee invites Jesus to have dinner with him. The crowd disperses and before Jesus begins to walk with his host, his eyes meet yours. Come, he seems to say. I can’t, you plead back to him looking at the Pharisee. Jesus, don’t you know how unclean I am? You think disparagingly as you turn and walk the other way. Towards home. There’s no way you could shame Jesus by following him to the Pharisee’s house.
As you walk, feeling your soul freed, but still uncertain where your next meal would come from, your mother’s old neighbor stops you. “You have been on my heart, sweet girl, will you help me cook daily meals from now on? My husband can afford to pay you a good wage. I’m just not quite as young as I once was to do it all on my own.”
You accept fervently, gratefully. You’ll start tomorrow. She overlooked all my sins, you think to yourself. You can’t believe the favor. No one has approached you and offered you work before. And yet, today, Jesus declared your sins were forgiven and you’ll be provided for a lifetime. Your gratitude overflows from the depths of you. How could I ever thank him for what he has done? What gift could I give? Suddenly, you have an idea and run the rest of the way home. You quickly search and grab the one item of value that you own and, then, hastily make your way towards that Pharisee’s house. As you run, you break the delicate neck of the alabaster jar and, for the first time, you smell the full force of the sweet scent: overpowering and rich.
By the time you reach Jesus you are already weeping in thanksgiving. A new life. He’s given me a new life. Your tears drip consistently onto his heels, his arches, his ankles, his toes. You are unaware of the conversation going on around you as you let your hair fall loose and wipe his feet with the strands. You don’t mind: he’s freed you and given you a future. Then, taking the broken vessel of oil, you pour it, all of it, onto the Savior of your soul’s feet. Forgiven. I am forgiven. Fresh tears pour forth from your eyes every time you consider it. A new, bright future is ahead of me. All because of him. You kiss his feet over and over again. As time goes by, you know it’s your time to leave, but glance up at him once more. He looks you in the eyes, and says for the third time, “Your sins stand forgiven.”
You nod and begin weeping anew, and slowly back out of the Pharisee’s house and walk back to your own home. Comforted and free. Grateful and unashamed. You know in your heart you’ll never stop praising and thanking Jesus for what he’s done for you.