Preface: Though it’s not easy, and it goes against our nature, true love involves a substantial amount of risk and calls us to tear down barriers that separate us both outside and inside the church. “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, NASB, 1995).
Mary Magdalene entered the crowded room where Jesus was sitting. She fell to His feet and began to wash them with her tears. Later, with her own long hair, she not only dried His feet, but kissed them and anointed them with perfume. This was how Mary chose to express her love to our Creator.
One day, while trying to put this event into context, I asked a Hindu friend if there was a special reason why Hindu women wear their hair long. She told me that this was a symbol of one’s love her spouse, which was expressed, prior to intimacy, by washing her husband’s feet and drying them with the length of her hair. In Hindu culture this brings sexual arousal.
Simon’s attitude toward Mary’s act seems to show that, as in India today, it was commonplace for women to express their love in this way. He was so appalled by what Mary did that he even went so far as to question Jesus’ reputation for accepting her behavior. “ ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner’ ” (Luke 7:39, NIV). The Bible testifies that Jesus did not reject Mary, but rather used the opportunity to uncover the negative thoughts harbored in the hearts of His followers.
Prior to this incident, Jesus had cast demons out of Mary (John 8:2) and had said to her when she was found in adultery: “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Mary Magdalene’s act was an expression of deep love because “in His mercy, Jesus had pardoned her sins, He had called forth her beloved brother from the grave, and [her] heart was filled with gratitude.”* She wanted to express her thankfulness, and the only way she knew how to do so was by washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
Rather than establishing a sexual connotation, Mary’s act exemplified the unusual ways in which true love and gratitude can be manifested. Instead of rejecting her, Jesus allowed her to express her feelings even if this meant putting His reputation on the line. Mary had descended to the lowest of human condition, yet God’s love was powerful enough to rescue her. Because we are the object of His love, He reaches every one of us no matter our condition or state in life.
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 559.