An encounter

“He’s at Simon’s house,” came the excited whispers all around me, as I made my way through the throng of people crowding the street.

I tugged at the sleeve of an older woman who was walking in front of me. “Excuse me–do you know which Simon everyone is referring to?”

The older woman turned to look at me, and as she did so, her eyes widened in recognition. Then they narrowed in obvious contempt. “I don’t know why it matters to you.”

I felt my cheeks burn with shame under her scrutinizing gaze. She knew who I was. But still I persisted. “Please, I’d just like to know.”

“Well, Simon the Pharisee, then–if you must know,” the woman replied, with obvious disgust in her voice. She quickly turned away, indicating she wanted nothing more to do with me, but I was satisfied. I knew where Simon the Pharisee lived, and it wasn’t far.

I was jostled and bumped and even cursed at a few times as I quickly weaved through the crowd, but I didn’t care. I had to see Him. The prophet and teacher named Jesus that others claimed was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

When I finally stood outside Simon’s house, however, my heart began to race with fear. I peered around the people in front of me into the open doorway, catching a glimpse of the richly dressed Pharisees reclining at a table. I glanced down at my own shabby garb, my cheeks flushing. How could I walk in there? I wondered. Even now I could feel the stares of those around me. Nearly everyone in Capernaum knew who I was. Certainly even this Jesus would know who and what I was as soon as He saw me. Maybe even He would turn away from me in contempt, despite the stories I’d heard about Him.

But I had to take a chance. Clutching a small, alabaster vial of perfume in one hand, I pushed my way through the people in front of the doorway, ignoring their scornful remarks, till at last I had entered the house. I knew which one was Jesus as soon as I saw Him. He was simply dressed, unlike the Pharisees around Him, and had a very unimpressive physical appearance, and yet, when He spoke, there was an authority in His voice that filled me with awe. For a moment I stood transfixed, listening to Him and watching Him, wondering what had possessed me to approach such an esteemed teacher and prophet. I, the dirty and unclean sinner, who could hear the whispers of the Pharisees, now looking in my direction. My heart flooded with the familiar feelings of shame, and I was about to turn around and flee, when Jesus suddenly looked at me. My eyes locked with His, expecting to see the same contempt and judgment I was used to encountering, but instead kindness and compassion stared back at me.

I felt as if, for the first time, someone saw me, instead of my sin. In that single look I felt known. Known and somehow still loved. Something in me broke. Tears began to course down my cheeks, and gathering courage from Jesus’ kind gaze, I approached Him, suddenly oblivious to the whispers and stares of the Pharisees. I knelt at His feet, weeping, overcome by the sense of my unworthiness in His presence, and yet so drawn to the compassion and mercy He emanated. When I realized my tears were falling on His feet, I unloosed my hair and, gathering its soft ends, used them to dry His feet. I then kissed His feet repeatedly and anointed them with the perfume from my alabaster vial.

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Even as I knelt there beside Jesus, weeping and performing these ministrations to Him, I listened to the conversation He was having with Simon, who reclined nearby. He was telling Simon a story about a moneylender who forgave his debtors, and then, turning to me, He asked Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then, laying a hand on my shoulder and looking me in the eyes, He said to me, “Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A peace and joy I’d never experienced before filled me at His words. Could it be possible? That I was forgiven? I just stared into Jesus’ face for several moments, not wanting to look away from His loving eyes, nor leave His awe-inspiring presence. I could feel the stares of Simon and the other Pharisees, but I no longer cared what they thought of me. I no longer cared what anyone thought of me. This man Jesus knew me, and He still loved me and forgave me. Slowly I stood up, wiping my eyes and tear-stained face, and I expressed my gratitude in the only way I knew how: by smiling at Him. He smiled back at me. That was enough.

I walked out of the house, glancing back one more time at Jesus. He was still looking at me, his gaze full of compassion. My heart lept with joy. When I re-entered the street, I pushed through the throng of people, till I’d at last found some open space. Then I began to run and skip, my arms opened wide, not caring who saw, feeling freer than a bird soaring through the heavens.