Insects buzzed through the heavy air as the young woman slunk down the dusty street. The dirt was warm under her bare feet as the the red, Jerusalem sun began its descent into the dark palm trees on the horizon. The slam of a nearby door startled her, and she began to tremble. Pushing her dirty hair behind her ear she walked quicker.
The hunger had started again, two weeks ago. It was impossible to ignore, painful in her chest as if her heart had been tied in a knot.
She clutched the small pot in her hands with a sweaty grasp and glanced behind her. She rounded the corner.
She knew sadness. She understood weariness, longing, and regret. But this feeling, this hunger, was different. It was an invisible cord that tugged her towards something that she had never possessed but had always desired. It gnawed on every inch of her stomach as of she hadn't eaten for days. But it was not even that sort of hunger. She felt hunted by it.
A memory from her childhood whirled through her mind as she came to a standstill in front of the stone gate of a clean house. She remembered her first visit to the temple as a girl, her first sighting of those pure pillars, the first time she had heard the holy words of Jehovah read from a scroll. She had felt the hunger back then, it had hunted her even when she was a child kneeling in the dust of the outer courtyard with the lambs and the doves.
It was strange how time and living had numbed the hunger for so many years. But now, staring breathlessly into the bright windows of the house, she wondered how she had ever forgotten it. She slipped through the gate and approached the door, heart pounding. She raised her hand and rapped her knuckles against the wood.
"A minute..." a voice bellowed from behind the door. She became self-conscious of her bare head and shuffled away from the light of the lamps. The lump in her throat choked her. The door flew open. She jumped with fright. The man in the doorway squinted.
"What do you want, girl?"
"The rabbi is here tonight," she trembled, twisting her tunic between her hands. "Jesus."
"The good teacher has just sat down to eat--"
She ducked between the two doorposts and into the bright entryway beyond. Down the hallway, feet padding against the stone floor. Surprised calls from behind her. The doorway. Bursting through, she caught her breath and fell to her knees. The men reclining around the low table gasped. She lowered her eyes.
"Rabbi," she began, then choked on her words.
Despair. What words can describe years of regret and months of hopelessness? What do unclean lips have to say to perfection? The emptiness rose up in her throat. She pressed her face against the god-man's dusty feet and sobbed.
The hunger had pulled her here, to these feet. Confused, her body shook with the weight of grief. 'Surely I am a sinner,' she thought. 'Surely. Surely. Surely.' Her hands shook as she broke open the alabaster pot and raised it over the man's head. Sweet perfume filled the room. Oil dripped from her dirty hands and onto the man's scarred face, but she didn't dare to meet his gaze.
She knelt again. Her tears dripped down between his toes, leaving dark paths on his dusty feet. She wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of incense in her nose made her dizzy. The men in the room were talking quietly. Objecting. Then the god-man was speaking.
"...Two men owed money to a certain moneylender," his rough voice was saying. "One owed him fifty denarii, the other owed him five hundred. Neither had the money to repay him, so he canceled the debts of both."
She raised her eyes for a split-second. She knew debt.
"Now. Which one of them will love him more?"
'The one who owed more, the one who owed a fortune that he could never repay by himself', she thought to herself. 'The one whose heart had wanted to burst from the sorrow and shame of a hopeless debt.'
How much greater the relief. How much greater the love. A tinge of hope pricked the place where the hunger had rested for so long.
"I suppose the one who had the bigger debt great cancelled," admitted the man to the left of the rabbi. "He would love the man more."
"You have judged correctly," the god-man replied. "Do you see this woman? I came to your house, Simon. You did not give me water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair."
Simon opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it in embarrassment.
"And you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my head and feet." The sweet smell hung in the air with a vivid presence as the man paused. "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven--for she loved much."
"Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."