The first time I saw Jesus I fell madly in love with him. Going early to the marketplace one day, I knew that I had several hours before the scorching sun would force me indoors or at least into the cool of any available shade. All the stalls were open and business was brisk. Traders were shouting their products and women were haggling over prices.
Boys and girls were playing games, chasing each other in and out between the stalls, kicking up the dust as they ran. Occasionally, a child made the mistake of running within arm’s length of a trader and received a swift clip under the ear in response. The village dogs were caught up in the general excitement, barking and chasing both children and each other.
As I wandered from stall to stall, some women averted their eyes, whilst others turned their back on me. I’d become used to this kind of treatment, and it didn’t bother me anymore, or, at least, I’d hardened my heart to it. Fortunately, the traders knew that my money was as good as the next person’s, and they were just as happy to accept it.
I was still deciding on what to buy for the mid-day meal, when I noticed a sudden increase in the volume of noise from a crowd of people who were entering the marketplace from the far end. Everyone immediately looked up and checked for riders on horseback or the glint of sun on polished steel. Satisfied that no Romans were involved, people quickly resumed what they were doing.
Watching the crowd for a moment longer, I realised that it wasn’t the usual situation of people surging forward towards some common goal. This group seemed to be inward looking, centring on itself, or at least on some thing or some person in the middle. Who or what were they focusing on, I wondered? Perhaps a teacher or a healer or maybe a self-appointed prophet? Certainly not a tax collector!
The new crowd wound its way slowly through the marketplace, occasionally stopping as if someone was having a short conversation and then moving on. Eventually they came abreast of the stall where I was standing. As happens occasionally, the jostling group parted slightly and I had a clear view of the man I realised was at the centre of the group. He was talking to someone and then turned his head in my direction. Immediately, we were looking directly into each other’s eyes. He held my gaze for a moment, smiled, and then turned as someone else demanded his attention. The crowd then moved on, and eventually made its way out of the marketplace.
For some time I stood transfixed to the spot where I was standing. I could vaguely hear the trader behind me telling me to buy something or else to move on and make room for real customers. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I just stood there, re-living that moment in my mind. I had only seen the man for a few seconds, but that was still enough time for me to fall head over heels in love.
What had attracted me to him? He was not a handsome man – not in the Greek nor the Roman nor even the Jewish style of handsome-ness. His appearance had been completely ordinary. He had the sort of face that just melts into the crowd. Seen for a moment, and then immediately forgotten. Therefore, what had drawn the crowd to him? Even more importantly, what had drawn love out of my hardened heart?
As I began to walk slowly back towards my home, I kept turning these thoughts over and over. Eventually it came to me. Many people radiate a particular presence in their interactions with others. Some radiate a sense of power and arrogance. Others radiate greed and indifference. Still others often give off a sense of suffering or self-centeredness or even lust. This man was different. In the few seconds that our eyes had met, he had conveyed an expression of total love, total acceptance and total forgiveness. In those few seconds I fell madly in love with this man I later found out was called Jesus. As I entered my home I suddenly realised that I’d bought nothing for lunch. I’d now have to make do with a few left-overs from last night’s meal.
The next time I saw him was in a nearby village when I was visiting relatives. As I was walking past the Synagogue, Jesus and a small group of ten or twelve men were coming out. I could hear voices shouting and heated debate coming from those still inside the Synagogue. I paused on the other side of the road, watching.
Jesus noticed me, smiled and walked over towards me. I held my breath as he came across and asked my name. Already, I could hear murmuring starting from some of the others behind him. When I told him my name, he said to me, ‘Mary, there are things inside of you that should not be there. Do you want to be rid of them?’ My mind raced! How did he know about that? As he looked kindly at me, that sense of total love and total acceptance and total forgiveness again washed over me. ‘Yes.’ I whispered in reply. Jesus’ face suddenly became angry and he spoke a few words that I did not understand. Then, as I stood there, I felt cleanliness and holiness fill me. I felt pure for the first time in many, many years. All the burdens of my life seemed to have lifted. It was as if I did not have a care in the world. Jesus then said quietly to me, ‘Mary, sin no more.’ Turning around he re-joined his group of friends and they walked off. As I somewhat shakily walked back to my village, I knew that I had to find out more about this Jesus.
Just to see him more often, I began to associate with the women who travelled with Jesus and his disciples. Initially, they were uncomfortable and looked strangely at me. They weren’t rude or hurtful they just largely ignored me as they went about their business. I didn’t care! At least now I had an excuse to see Jesus every day. Eventually, when the women and the disciples saw that Jesus had accepted me, they followed his lead, and I started to contribute towards the group’s activities.
Time passed. I thought that I had been quite good at concealing my feelings towards Jesus, but one day I didn’t turn away in time and he caught me looking longingly at him. He didn’t say anything at the time, but later, when the disciples and women were busy with other things, he walked over to me. ‘Mary’, he said. My heart was pounding inside of me so much that I felt sure that he must be able to hear it thumping. I stopped breathing. Thoughts raced through my mind of all the loving words and expressions that Jesus might say to me. ‘Mary’, he said to me again, and smiled. ‘Don’t you know that I must be about my father’s business?’ Conflicting emotions raged inside of me. Again, I could feel that sense of total love and total acceptance and total forgiveness wash over me. But I also knew in that instant that he would never be mine. We would never be man and woman together. Tears filled my eyes as I turned and ran from his presence.
A few days later when I returned I was uncertain of what response I would receive, however Jesus was the first to welcome me back into the group, and the others followed his lead. As the days turned into weeks and months I knew that in my heart of hearts I would always love him. Romantic love was not to be, but I could still find expression for my love and gratitude in following and serving Jesus and his disciples for the rest of my life.
The last time we travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, there was a different feeling amongst the group. Jesus was largely still the same: teaching, laughing, encourag-eing and healing, although he did seem to be a bit more focused, as if he had settled some debate in his mind. Amongst the disciples and the women however, there was a vague sense of foreboding.
Jerusalem, as usual, was teeming with people. Religious guards were everywhere, shouting and trying to maintain order amongst a multitude of Jews from so many different places. From time to time detachments of Roman soldiers could be glimpsed in the back streets – keeping a low profile, but ready if trouble suddenly erupted.
A few evenings ago, on the night before Passover, Jesus and the disciples went off by themselves for a meal. We women stayed at the house. Very late that night there was an uproar as abruptly the house filled with disciples, all very agitated and all shouting at once.
Apparently, after their meal had finished, Jesus and his disciples had gone to a nearby garden. Telling most of the others to wait, Jesus took Peter, James and John further into the garden. They had been away for hours when suddenly there were torch lights and commotion coming from the direction that Jesus and the others had gone.
One of the followers went to investigate, but a short time later came running back. He was naked and out of breath. Finally, he gasped out that Jesus had been arrested. He didn’t know what had happened to the others, but some of the mob had attempted to arrest him when he tried to follow them. Fortunately, he had been able to twist out of his cloak and away from their grasp and escape, but the mob was still searching for him and anyone else associated with Jesus.
Shortly after passing on the news to the women, some of the disciples left the house seeking to secure their own safety. Those of us who remained, stayed inside for fear of the mob.
Early the next morning James and John returned to the house and told us that neither they nor Peter had been arrested. They had followed the mob at a discrete distance and had seen Jesus dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest, and then before the assembled Jewish Council. All sorts of wild accusations had been hurled at Jesus. While they were watching the proceedings, some of the high priest’s servants thought that they recognised Peter as one of the disciples. Peter had denied it vehemently and then eventually ran away.
Jesus was then dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor. Learning that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to be tried by King Herod. When Jesus would not answer his questions, Herod sent him back to Pilate.
After a brief hearing, Pilate pronounced that Jesus was not guilty of any charge that warranted the death penalty and offered to release him. The mob however had been stirred up and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate finally gave in to their demands and ordered that the punishment take place.
Later that morning we were amongst the huge crowd that followed the soldiers and prisoners to Golgotha. We stood silently apart from the rest whilst we watched the punishment being carried out. It was mid-afternoon when Jesus called out one final time, and then we saw his whole body slump. We instinctively knew that he was dead.
After a while we returned to the house still in a state of shock and numb with sorrow and disbelief. We heard later that another follower, Joseph of Arimathea had obtained permission to bury Jesus in his own tomb.
Today, well before dawn, together with some other women, I set out for the tomb. We had decided that we would go and anoint the body of Jesus, as our last loving act. We had gathered together all that we needed for the task and were almost to the tomb when we realised that we had not thought about how we would move the stone. While we were still talking about this, we felt the earth shake violently beneath us. It took us a few moments to compose ourselves after the earthquake, but we then pressed on.
Upon reaching the tomb, to our surprise the guards were nowhere to be seen, but, more amazingly, the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb had rolled to one side. As we stood there, two men appeared. Their clothes were dazzling and we looked away in fear. The men asked, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? Don’t you remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee that he must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?” Of course! Jesus’ words came flooding back to us.
We turned and ran back to the house and excitedly told the others what had happened. They didn’t believe us, even though we recounted the story again and again.
Eventually, Peter and John decided to go and investigate for themselves. They ran off towards the tomb and I decided to follow them. By the time I arrived, they had both been inside. They told me that the linen burial cloths were still there, but Jesus’ body was nowhere to be seen. “He must have risen from the dead,” Peter said. “Come, let’s go back and tell the others,” said John. They looked at me and started to move off. “You go.” I replied. “I’ll sit here for a while, it’s all too confusing.” I sat down on a nearby rock and started to weep.
After a while, I stooped to peek inside the tomb. To my amazement I could see two men dressed in white sitting where Jesus would have lain. “Woman, why are you weeping?” one of them said. “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him?” I replied.
Hearing a movement behind me, I turned around and saw another man standing nearby. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” he said. Thinking that he was the gardener, I said to him, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will remove him.” “Mary,” the man said. Instantly, I recognised that voice! It was him, Jesus, my Lord. I looked into his eyes and once again saw that expression of total love, total acceptance and total forgiveness. “Teacher,” I cried as I leapt to my feet and moved to hug him. “Do not hold me,” he said, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to the others and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God, and to your God.” Suddenly, Jesus was gone and I was alone.
I turned and started to walk back to the house. As I’ve been walking, all my experiences of Jesus have been flooding back into my mind. I know that Jesus is no longer with us in his body, but somehow, I also know that his presence will always be with me and each of his followers. As I enter the house, I realise that I can’t keep this good news to myself. I must share with others the total love, the total acceptance and the total forgiveness that Jesus has given to me. I cry out to those inside the house: JESUS, THE CHRIST HAS RISEN!
CHRIST HAS RISEN!
HE HAS RISEN INDEED!