Oh, I've seen Him. I've seen Him many times as he passed by with crowds on every side. I remember the first time He passed by. It was hard to be sure, but it seemed as if He had paused to look right at me. I will never forget His eyes!
Have you ever seen eyes brimming with love and melting with understanding? I have! His eyes were so deep with compassion that I had to look away, and He passed by. When I looked again, the only reminder of His passing was an eddie of dust settling upon the road.
He always seemed to be so busy, so sought after, so in demand, that I despaired of ever seeing Him again. You must understand that though my line of work provided many a customer, I was seldom welcome at any social gathering. When I wasn't working, I was usually alone.
Curiously, though He was always surrounded by people, yet it seemed to me as if He also felt alone. There was a look about Him of one who does not belong. If you looked closely, you could detect just a hint of sadness in his eyes and the slightest stoop in his broad shoulders. You got the feeling that He lived and walked with some secret sorrow or hidden knowledge that was always just beyond the shadows. Though my loneliness was for different reasons, still I felt that He was a kindred spirit. I wanted to see Him again.
There was something about His eyes that attracted me. I wondered whether they were His Father's or His mother's eyes. They seemed to follow me into dreams, and often I would awake with a feeling that He was near. Strange how He can feel near even when He isn't in town!
I determined to discover where I might find Him, but those whom I asked caused me to feel as though He would have no time for a woman like me. They said He was a prophet, a holy man, a religious leader. And of course, everyone knows that religious leaders have little or no time for common sinners like me. I had learned that lesson well from the leading Pharisee in Bethany!
Years before, I had lived in Bethany. In fact, I was born there. My parents died when I was still a child. Fortunately, I have an older brother who was able to work and provide for my sister and me. His work took him away from our home for long hours every day but he never complained.
My sister was often gone also. She was very active in community affairs, especially church-related ones. There was always another project to keep her busy, so I was often home alone.
I've never believed in making excuses. I blame no one but myself for it, but complications arose when I began receiving a visitor while home alone. He was that Pharisee I mentioned and we became involved in sin. It didn't continue long but it left me devastated! I was filled with remorse and burdened by guilt. When I went to the synagogue in search of peace and forgiveness, Simon made it clear that I was not welcome there.
He further told me that there had been nothing between us and that should I ever tell anyone there had, he would emphatically deny it. He was a man of reputation and influence, and he convinced me that I would be the one who suffered if ever I accused him of immorality. He then suggested that it would be best for him if I left town.
This was really a double rejection. Simon had no time or use for me, and as the religious leader, he made me feel distanced from God, as well. My sense of loneliness was overwhelming! If I had suddenly been stricken with leprosy, I could not have felt more rejected.
For a time I remained in Bethany, but my situation did not improve. I felt unclean and uncomfortable around most people, especially my old friends. When I attended the synagogue, I'd wonder whether anyone else knew my guilty secret. If someone looked my direction at the market or the town well, I felt as though they could see right through me. I avoided eye contact and anyone familiar.
Things became tense and awkward at home. My brother and sister knew something was wrong and tried to get me to talk about it, but I refused. I would rather have died than for them to know what sort of failure I had made of my life. My sleep left me, and I often spent whole nights awake. I must have cried a riverful of tears!
Finally, one night I decided to leave. I gathered what few belongings I could carry and slipped away without goodbyes. I wasn't exactly sure where to go. All I knew was that I wanted to leave everything and everyone familiar and start over.
I walked the short distance down the mountain to Jerusalem, getting there just as they were opening the eastern gate. The capital was too big and too busy for me. Besides, it was close enough to home that I feared running into someone who knew me.
I spent the next few weeks drifting northward along the road to Shechem. I did odd jobs along the way and managed to keep food in my stomach, but I couldn't seem to escape the emptiness in my heart. I passed through Nain and considered living in Nazareth, but finally settled in the Galilean lake town of Magdala.
Things started out OK at first. I got a job at a small eatery, working as a dishwasher and cook's assistant. The pay wasn't much, but I took meals free and managed to make my rent. A few months after I started working there, the local economy took a drop, and business slowed to the point that I lost my job.
I tried unsuccessfully to find other work, and I came into great want. My landlord served me an eviction notice, and I didn't know what I was going to do. Tearfully I begged for more time to come up with the rent, but he seemed indifferent to my pleas. He told me that even men couldn't find work in our town. He said there was no chance that I would find a job sufficient to pay the rent. And then he proposed an arrangement whereby I might stay rent-free.
At first I rejected his proposition, but he told me to think about it for a couple of days and consider if it were not better than the alternative of sleeping on the street. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I accepted the arrangement he offered. I felt my past was already so tainted that it was pointless to be concerned about chastity. It would have been far better to have slept on the street.
Things went from bad to worse! Apparently he told some of his friends about our 'arrangement' and soon others came knocking at my door. I thought to discourage their purpose by asking a large sum of money. To my surprise and regret, many agreed to the price, and though I soon became quite wealthy, my self-worth could not have been poorer. I suffered regular and great depressions, often wishing that I might die.
And then one day, He passed by again. I heard the noisy commotion of a large crowd and went to my window. He was there#151;in the center of the crowd#151;and they were headed toward the lake. I grabbed a shawl and hurried after them. It wasn't enough to see Him from afar, if He was going to say something, I wanted to hear it.
We stopped on a grassy hillside that gently sloped into Galilee. Like a great swarm of bees, we settled down among the flowers and greenery of spring. He was standing on the lakeshore. From where we sat, reflected sunlight in the water at His back created a halo effect about him that added to our feelings of expectation. A stillness spread over the crowd and then He spoke.
Oh, how I treasure the things He said! Such things as, 'Come unto me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest.' 'Peace I give to you; my peace I leave with you. I don't give the way the world does.' 'Don't let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' 'Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.'
I listened spellbound to words that were like water to my parched soul. The picture of God that He gave me was in sharp contrast to the one I had received from other religious leaders. For a long time after He had finished talking, I lingered by, waiting for an opportunity to talk to Him. Finally He turned to me, and in His eyes I saw the same welcome that His words had made me feel. I fell on the ground at His feet as words and tears came gushing from me.
Through bitter sobs I told him the dark, ugly secrets of my life. He listened without condemnation, and when I was finished, He knelt on the ground beside me and prayed strong prayers in my behalf. I felt my guilt and uncleanliness drop away from me like the leaves of autumn. The winter in my life was over. Springtime had come.
Well, Jesus passed on to other towns, other people, but I stayed in Magdala. Perhaps staying wasn't such a good idea, for the same old friends and clients kept coming around. It wasn't long before I found myself involved again in the life I had thought to leave behind. The old burden of guilt returned, along with its accompanying sleeplessness and regrets. I longed for peace and wished that Jesus lived in Magdala so that I could go to Him for help.
I heard that He was teaching at the north end of the lake, in Capernaum, so one morning I set out to find Him. It wasn't difficult. When I got to the town I saw a crowd gathered on the beach. Joining them, I discovered that Jesus was teaching from a fishing boat anchored just off shore.
He was telling a story about a wayward son who journeyed to a far country and became involved in a life of sin. How I could relate to the misery that boy felt as he fed pigs and thought of home! When Jesus pictured God rushing out to meet the returning prodigal, my heart leaped within me. There was even hope for people who knowingly became involved in sin. There was hope for me!
After His talk was over and the crowd had gone home, I found myself at Jesus' feet once more. Again I heard His prayers in my behalf and felt the prodigal's joy in belonging to the family.
Sadly, I have to tell you that my joy was short-lived. I returned to Magdala and my life of sin. But the good news is that Jesus never gave up on me. During the next few months our paths continued to cross. Five more times I came into His presence, and each time I knew His welcome and forgiveness.
In His presence there is comfort! In His presence there is peace. And I finally determined to stay in His presence. There was a sort of inner circle, composed of several men and a number of women who traveled with Him. Two of the women, Joanna and Susanna, invited me to join them in ministering to Jesus of their substance. And so it was that I became a follower of Jesus.
In the days and weeks that followed, I began to understand more about those eyes of His. They were His Father's eyes! And His Father was none other than our very God! He had come to show us what God is like, come to remove the veil that dimmed our view. Eternity had stepped into time so that we might understand.
He told us of the Father with stories that I'll never forget. I saw the Father planting a vineyard and doing all possible for its growth. I saw Him preparing a wedding feast with a guest list that left out no one. On the darkest night, the Father was out looking for lost sheep. At midnight He was helping a neighbor in need. He was the King who made the common man His friend. I saw the Father rushing to welcome a wayward son. I saw Him giving His son, so that all who would believe might live forever.
He made the picture so clear! Just seeing Jesus made me feel as though I had seen the Father. God loved through Jesus' eyes and words. I began to understand where the love came from as I watched Him. He would rise up a great while before day and go out to some solitary place where He would pray. No matter how late He had gone to sleep or how tired He had been the night before, He always kept that appointment. Sometimes He would even spend entire nights in prayer and come forth refreshed and strengthened for another day.
He and the Father were one, and I began to understand that I, too, could have a close relationship with His Father. In fact, He once said that the whole basis of eternal life was in knowing God. At first I had difficulty believing that the sovereign God could be interested in spending time with someone like me. But as I watched Him in His Son, I knew it was true. Jesus mingled and mixed with common, every-day people, fisher folk by the sea, farmers in the field, women at the well.
The Pharisees thought that they slandered him when they said, 'He eats with publicans and sinners,' but to me they were speaking precious truth! God became man and sat at table with sinners!
I would have loved to have stayed with Him indefinitely. Sitting at His feet and listening to His words was my highest joy, but I wanted to go back to Bethany. I wanted to tell my family and friends what I had found, so one day I said goodbye to Joanna and the others and set out for home.
I'll never forget the day I returned. As I neared Bethany, old familiar landmarks brought back all sorts of fond memories. I smiled while passing a large rock where I remembered playing 'king of the mountain' with my brother and sister.
Thinking how good it would be to see my old loved ones and friends, I approached the gate in the western wall. Suddenly my recollections were interrupted by the cries of a nearby leper.
You must understand that our people believe leprosy to be a judgement for terrible sin. Anyone who got it had to leave home and family and was forced to advertise his calamity and sinfulness by calling out, 'Unclean, unclean!' Whether king or commoner, it made no difference, all were outcasts.
There was something in the voice of the one crying that seemed vaguely familiar. I cast a look in his direction, and my eyes verified what my ears could not believe. It was Simon! He was ghastly to look upon! The disease had made fearful inroads on his face and hands. I shuddered and gathered my shawl tighter about my head and shoulders. Trying to forget, I hurried through the gate.
I entered our home without knocking. Delicious odors told me I would find Martha in the kitchen. She was so startled to see me that she dropped the grinding stone she had been using, and it fell loudly to the floor. Lazarus rushed in from the next room to see if everything was all right and oh, how it was! We laughed and cried and hugged each other, all trying to talk at once. It was wonderful to be back home!
To my joy, I discovered that Jesus had been through Bethany and that Martha and Lazarus had also gotten to know Him. Lazarus, in particular, had spent much time with Jesus and they had become good friends. In fact, they told me that whenever Jesus passed through Bethany, He always stayed overnight or at least took meals in our home.
Not too long after I returned home, Jesus again came through our town. He was coming from the Temple in Jerusalem, where our religious leaders had twice tried to kill Him for claiming God as His father. The twelve were with Him, and though our home is small, Martha thought it would be special to have them all over for dinner. It was!
I should have been more of a help to Martha in the kitchen, but my Friend, whom they had tried to kill, was in our living room, and I just had to be near Him. The twelve and Lazarus more than filled the room, but I found a place on the floor near Jesus' feet, and listened to Him there.
I'm not sure why, perhaps it's because that is where I first knelt and poured out my heart, but there's something about being near His feet that is special to me. Those feet, so tireless on journeys of love and ministry, were the feet of God. Sitting or kneeling before Him there, was the highest honor, the highest privilege, I knew.
He said some things that day that worried me. Though the leaders at Jerusalem had not had their way with Him, He told us that the time would come when they would. He said that He would be betrayed into their hands and that they would deliver Him over to the Gentiles, who would mock, scourge and finally crucify Him.
The dinner and talk ended far too quickly and soon they were gone. Not long after they left, Lazarus became sick. At first we thought it was just an ordinary fever or flu, but his temperature climbed higher and higher. It got so high that he became delirious. Our concern grew!
We learned that after Jesus had left Bethany, He had gone through Jericho and on to the Jordan River. It was some 80 miles to where He was, but things were looking bad for Lazarus, so we sent a messenger to tell the Lord that our brother was sick. We knew He would come.
About a week later the messenger returned with news that this sickness was not unto death. We took courage, but the fever persisted. Martha and I took turns sitting by his bed and bathing Lazarus' brow. Now and then his mind would clear, and when it did we'd repeat the message from Jesus and assure him that everything was going to be OK.
Then Lazarus died. We didn't understand. We had not expected it to turn out like that. It was hard! Oh, how we wished Jesus had come, for sickness and death cannot remain in His presence.
We wrapped our brother's body in the customary graveclothes and placed him in a rock-hewn tomb just outside of town. As the massive stone covering rolled heavily into place, the finality of our loss was almost overwhelming.
I think my heart would have broken, but somehow (it is hard to explain) I felt as if Jesus' heart of love reached across the rocky miles and sustained me. Even though He was not in town, still I felt His presence and was comforted.
Then He came! Four days after we had buried our brother, He came. Oh, when Jesus comes, everything is all right! His Father's eyes spilled over as He listened to our grief, and then a most wonderful thing happened. He called out to Lazarus, and Lazarus heard! Our brother who had been dead, was alive again!
At His Feet
Amid the noise and celebration at the tomb, Jesus quietly slipped away. When we turned to thank Him, He could not be found. I discovered later that He had passed through Bethany's western gate and happened upon Simon.
As Jesus came into view, Simon had been mournfully crying, 'Unclean, unclean.' I guess he recognized Jesus as the miracle worker, but dismissed the idea of appealing for restoration, believing that the secret of his past placed him beyond the reach of a holy man.
For some reason, Jesus seems unable to pass by lepers without stopping. Perhaps it's because lepers are believed to be suffering for sin, and He had said, that He'd come to set the captives free. At any rate, Jesus turned aside to touch Simon, and he was made whole. The healing of his soul came later.
Simon had always believed you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get. A gift of healing was more than he could take without somehow endeavoring to earn his way. For some time he struggled to find a way to repay Jesus, then one day Simon arrived at our door with a request.
He proposed to give a dinner in Jesus' honor. His plan was to invite the great and near great from miles around to a lavish feast at which Jesus would have the highest seat. He asked my sister to cater the meal, and he asked Lazarus to attend. He felt certain that having one who had been in the grave as guest would insure attendance like no one around Jerusalem had ever seen. I was not invited.
Oh, how I wanted to attend! I couldn't forget that Jesus had predicted that He would die at the hands of His enemies, and I had a terrible feeling that His prophecy would soon be fulfilled. Who could say whether another week would find Him still among us? The thought of Him being as close as Simon's house without being able to see Him was almost more than I could bear.
The night of the party I sat home alone. Conversation and laughter floated upon the evening breeze, and I knew Jesus was near. How I longed to be in His presence! How I wanted to thank Him again for the change He'd wrought in my life! I wept and prayed for one last opportunity to be near Him. And then an idea began forming in my mind.
I had in my hope chest an alabaster box of spikenard that I had purchased at great cost, some years before. At the time I bought it I was trying to fill a void in my life with possessions, which were the only things that gave me any sense of self-worth. Jesus had more than filled that empty space, though, and now I was overflowing with gratitude. I determined to attend the feast uninvited, and there to anoint His feet.
Quickly I found the box of spikenard and hurried out into the night. As I passed along the streets of Bethany I formed my plan. I would enter the back door of Simon's house and go through the kitchen into the banqueting room. It would be dimly lit, and if I stayed low, I could pass behind the guests without being seen. I would find Jesus at the head of the table, quietly anoint His feet, and then slip out unnoticed by any one except Him.
Everything went as planned until I opened the perfume. In my haste to do something for Jesus, I had forgotten how overpowering spikenard can be. Conversation came to a sudden halt as the fragrance instantly filled the room. Concealment was impossible, and I was the focus of attention.
I became flustered and self-conscious. My ears burned, and my hands felt heavy. In my embarrassment, I awkwardly dropped the alabaster box, spilling its contents all over Jesus' feet. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't thought to bring a towel, and I had nothing with which to clean up the mess. Though only a woman of the street would ever be seen in public with her hair down, I could think of nothing else to use, so I pulled the pins from my tresses and began blotting up the spill with my hair. I also began to weep, and I'm sure I must have been a sight.
In the stillness I heard someone say, 'Why this great waste? This perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!' I realized that was true, and I wished it was what I had done. I remember thinking, 'Probably Jesus wishes the same.' And then I felt His hand upon my head.
'It's all right,' He said, 'She has done a good thing.'
I looked up into His eyes and He smiled at me. I knew then that I would not trade being at His feet for anything else in this world!
Grief & Gladness
One week later I was at His feet once more, only this time it was very different. Thursday night He was taken captive by the leaders of our nation, and by Friday morning He had been sentenced to death.
That morning I had come into Jerusalem from Bethany for the Passover. As I neared the city I heard the roar of a mob and followed the noise to Pilate's judgement hall. I could not believe what I saw there!
Jesus had been stripped of His clothes and beaten so badly that at first I did not recognize Him. Flogged flesh hung loosely from His back and sides. A crown of thorns had been pressed upon His head. His eyes were almost swollen shut, and His lips had been split by blows. Through the blood on His face I could see ugly bruises. He looked so battered that I could not bear the scene and hid my face from Him.
The next time I looked, they had placed a murderer beside Him, and Pilate was asking the crowd to choose which one he should set free. To my amazement, the crowd called for the release of Barrabas! Pilate could not believe their reaction either, and he motioned for silence. 'What shall be done with Jesus of Nazareth?' he asked.
'Let Him be crucified!' roared the mob.
With all that was in me, I cried out for His release. 'Free Him! He is innocent!' I was struck in the face and spat upon by the rabble surrounding me, but I only cried louder.
It was clear that the crowd would be satisfied with nothing less than His death. For a time Pilate hesitated, but in the end he gave in to their wishes, saying, 'Take Him, then, and crucify Him, but know that I find Him innocent!'
I followed the crowd, weeping as He carried His cross to Golgotha. The soldiers did their bloody work, and from the crowd I watched Him there. He was high and lifted up, and from His feet fell great drops of blood. I managed to press and squeeze my way through the crowd until at last I came to the foot of the cross.
His breath came in hoarse gulps as He fought to maintain consciousness, but He saw me there. I know He did! Though He said nothing, His eyes flickered in recognition, and I determined to stay near Him to the end.
The hours past, and I lost all sense of time. An unnatural darkness came over us, and a cloud enveloped the cross. I heard Him pray for forgiveness for the mob that crucified Him. I heard Him express thirst. I heard Him calling out for His Father, but only thunder replied.
In the lightening's flash I saw His chest heaving, and then I heard Him cry in a voice that seemed to encompass the earth, 'It is finished! Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.'
For a moment, His face shone like the sun, then His head fell to His chest, and an empty silence overtook us there. I longed to remove His body, to hide it from the gaping crowd, but I could do nothing. So I stood in tears at His feet.
Eventually two men came with burial supplies and lowered His body from the cross. They wrapped it in a sheet, and I followed at a distance as they carried Him to a tomb. I saw where they placed Him. I watched them roll the stone across the entrance. For a long time I sat beside that tomb, then in grief I stumbled the empty miles to Bethany and home.
At His Feet Once More
Sabbath came and went. I slept little and moved as if in a dream. I kept hoping I would waken to find the nightmare over. I remember walking numbly to the edge of town and sitting beside the empty tomb where Lazarus had been buried. There I recalled that Jesus had said, 'I am the resurrection and the life.'
He had given life to others. How could it be that His own could be taken? When Lazarus came forth, I had thought that death had met its match. Now the grave had taken Him who said that He was the way, the truth, and the life. Death was victorious after all, and even the best of men could not prevent its sting. Such were my thoughts as the hours dragged painfully by.
Out of exhaustion I finally slept a few hours during the second night after Jesus' death. Some time after midnight I awoke with the overwhelming desire to return to the tomb where Jesus was. I knew that the tomb was sealed and that a Roman guard had been posted. I knew that it would be impossible to see His body, but I just wanted to be near Him. I had always known comfort in His presence before; perhaps the same could still be mine even now. And so in tears I walked the two or three miles to Jerusalem.
Along the way I met Joanna, Salome, and Mary the mother of James taking more spices to the tomb. I joined them, and we continued walking together. About a mile from the grave we were suddenly thrown with violence to the ground. The earth heaved and shook, and a sound like thunder filled my ears. In the distance I could hear the clatter of rocks tumbling down a hillside, and my heart became fearful. Was this death's way of boasting, or was all creation groaning without Jesus?
The tremors subsided, and cautiously we rose to our feet. We continued toward the tomb, wondering whether the quake had disturbed His body or affected the hillside that contained His grave. It had! The guard had fled, but how I wished they had stayed, for the sepulchre was rent and Jesus' body had been taken.
My grief knew no bounds! Not only was Jesus dead, but they had taken away His body, and I did not know where they had taken Him. Being robbed of His body was more injustice then I could bear. In despair I turned and ran to tell the disciples.
When Peter and John heard the news, they raced to the tomb, and I followed some distance behind. By the time I got there, they had gone, and I was alone. I went to the entrance of the tomb and looked inside.
Through my tears I saw two men sitting where the body of Jesus had lain. One of them asked why I was crying, and I told him that I had wanted to be near Jesus but that someone had taken His body and I didn't know where it was. I didn't feel like talking more, so I turned away, and when I did, I saw Someone standing in my path. It was another Man, and He too asked me why I was weeping.
At His question I fell further apart and began sobbing uncontrollably. I tried to talk, but could only moan. I struggled to gain composure but it would not come. I thought He was the gardener, and brokenly I tried to ask if He knew where they had taken my Lord.
Perhaps Joseph's sepulchre was considered too fine for a carpenter. If that was the case, I knew of another empty tomb just outside of Bethany. I could take Him there if they would let me. Through my tears I told Him so.
And then I heard Him speak my name. 'Mary,' He said, and my heart stood still. 'Mary!' It was Jesus!
I fell at His feet and cried, 'Master!'
He told me not to touch Him yet, and then He gave me a message for His friends. He said that He was going to the Father and that everything was going to be all right. I'd heard Him talk about 'going" before. At that time He had said He would come again and receive us to Himself. He said we would be able to be with Him there, and now that is what I live for.
One day He will do for others what He did for our family and for Lazarus. He will come to waken His friends from their long sleep. I expect to hear Him call my name again then. I understand that He plans to give us each a crown, and I can hardly wait to cast mine down at His feet!
The Pleasure of His Company - At His Feet
Copyright © 1994, written by Lee Venden