“Hey there, big boy – you lookin' for a good time?”
I flashed him a brazen smile – one that would fully convey my loathsome intentions. As a lion might smile shortly before sinking its teeth into its prey, I smiled. I'd brought many a “mighty man” to his destruction and I reveled in it. The sheets I meticulously laid upon my bed, perfumed with aloe and cinnamon, were useful implements of their sorrow. I considered myself a modern-day Delilah, whispering in men's ears, enticing them into sharing the very secrets I'd use against them.
They loved me, or at least they loved me at first. However, I hated them with the same measure of passion that drew them to me. Long ago, I'd promised myself to make their lives miserable. I would do what it took to lure them, and from that point on I became cold and emotionless. Nothing could break my icy stare, though many a fool had tried. They pleaded with me (oh, how I loved their pain!) to “become that seductive temptress I met on the street”, but nothing, not even blows to my face or threats to my life, could convince me to do so. Every time, I started out sweet as honey to them and became as bitter as gall. This was the punishment I issued to these sick curs, and I savored every unsatisfactory moment. This was my game, and I was the ultimate victor. Some might wonder how I was able to play this game as long as I did, but don't we all know that there is no end to idiots in this world?
“Hello, what's your name?” I looked up, startled that any man would bother asking my name. My name never mattered, my services did. I knew my place. I was a piece of meat to those men, nothing more. It took me a while to respond, and for a minute, I thought I'd forgotten my own name.
“Maggie,” I told him, not before eying him suspiciously to see if this was a joke.
To my surprise, his eyes were sincere. There was something different about this man. He was affluent, intelligent. He was much older than most men I'd led astray. Rather than asking me how much I charged, he asked me about my hopes and dreams; my delights and wishes. It was soon clear to me that he wasn't interested in what I had to offer, he was interested in who I was. We spent hours in conversation, and over the next few weeks he showered me with gifts and luxuries I could never have gotten otherwise. He was very quiet about his life, which didn't bother me. This was obviously a very private man. I quickly fell in love with him, and the first night I spent with him was the first time I ever let myself feel. I wept that night in his arms, and his kisses soothed me.
One day, he asked me how I became a prostitute. Any other person asking me this would have received a look of indifference and silence, but I trusted this man, and him only. I began telling him about my life.
“When I was a child, I reasoned as a child. My parents were very devout and I believed their stories of the Mighty God of Israel. We spent time at the tabernacle every chance we got, offering sacrifices to our Holy God. My parents were very careful to obey every new regulation that the Pharisees came up with, in the hopes that they too would be considered worthy to worship in the tabernacle. When I grew older, I longed for adventure. I wanted to know why all of the rules were in place, and what purpose they served. I started to question the Pharisees and none of their answers made sense to me. I tried to speak to my parents about this, but they were unwavering in their dedication.
“The veil of the Pharisees had been lifted from my eyes, and I realized that they had no compassion. For a year, I watched as they drove away widows and orphans with their sophisticated rhetoric. They always had a reason to deny a beggar the bread he needed. In synagogues, with plenty of men watching, they bestowed upon others the greatest charities in the loudest voices they could muster, but when I watched from windows, invisible to their eyes, they were cruel and harsh. Yet their rules and regulations were chains that bound me to my mundane, joyless life. I would not live this life in which my only hope was to adopt the Pharisees' standards. Finally, after coming home from the tabernacle, my mother began to lecture me about my disrespect toward their beloved Pharisees. I stood ready to fight my battle out, once and for all.
“What are you, blind, mom? How could you not see what fakes they are? They use God as an excuse not to do what He commands them to do! Everything is 'Corban' to them, even the help that God says to give parents in their old age!”
“You will not speak of a man of God like that! Not in THIS house, not anywhere, Maggie. Have I made myself clear?”
“The only thing you've made clear is your steadfast faith in an arrogant man who thinks he IS God!”
“He is a MAN OF GOD, and you will address him as such!”
“If HE is what God is like, I want no part in your sacred, Holy God!”
As soon as I'd said this, I felt a sharp sting on my face and watched as my mother's hand went to her mouth in dismay. If her objective was to shut me up, it worked: my sarcasm was promptly silenced when I realized that my own mother had slapped me in the face. She hadn't laid her hand on me for years, and then only to correct her young child.
It was obvious that she felt badly about her impulsive act. She started to say something, tears welling up in her eyes, but I closed my ears to her as I stormed off to my room. So what if she wanted to apologize? I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. At least now I had nothing to hold me back from leaving this awful place forever.
“That night, while my parents were sleeping, I tiptoed into their room and took their money. I went out through the window rather than risk the sound of our heavy door awakening them. When I got outside, I sprinted down the streets, delighted that I would finally be able to make my own rules. My life of adventure had begun, and there was no one to prevent me from living how I saw fit.”
For a moment I reconsidered telling my story. It was too painful, and what did it matter what happened then? There was nothing I could do to change it and nothing I could do to forget it. I looked at him, ready to give an excuse as to why I couldn't finish, but when I saw the love and compassion in his eyes, I softened. Try as I might, there was nothing that could prevent me from telling him the whole truth of how I came to this hard/difficult life.
I sighed. “Anyway, when I took my parents' money, I didn't realize that I would need more than that to survive. I had no family ties as far as anyone else was concerned, and I had nowhere to call home. I stayed outside the first few days, but after a while the harsh weather began to wear me down. A group of young men approached me and offered to provide a place to stay. Their eyes were so compassionate when they looked at me – what a simpleton I was!/how naïve I was! – and I went with them to a small inn. I was full of gratitude for their show of generosity, but I did not know that it was just that – a show.
“They waited until I reached the back of the room, walking in behind me and asking me if I found the room accommodating. When I answered them, an evil that I had never before seen entered their eyes. They walked slowly, but purposely toward me with a disgusting, terrifying look on their faces. I tried to escape, but they held me down. I tried to fight them, but they fought harder. I screamed, but no one heard. I begged, I pleaded with them, but...”
My sobs broke through and flooded my entire body. I could not finish. The pain I'd suppressed and denied for years came surging back, and it was all I could do to keep from melting into a mass of wailing flesh. He put his arms around my neck and ran his fingers through my hair. Slowly rocking me back and forth, he calmed me.
Finally, he broke the silence, saying, “Oh, dear Maggie... what did they do to you?”
“Raped,” I managed to squeak out, my voice nearly gone. “Raped, beaten, left for dead.”
I cleared my throat. “So now you see why I live this way... the most valuable thing I had to offer was violently taken from me, so there was no point in pretending like it wasn't. There was no way I could go home now, even if I wanted to. What would my parents think? Thus, I resolved to continue this life, if for no other reason than to spite and trap the kinds of men who forced this upon me. No man could really want a woman who had been raped anyway.”
“What makes you say that? A man could-”
My anger and frustration got the better of me as I cut him off: “Are you saying this to pity me? To somehow make me feel better for what has happened? I may just be a prostitute, but I remember my teachings. How is what happened to me unlike what happened to Tamar: Absalom's sister and David's daughter? Every day, these last words haunt me: 'And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman.' Why should I be any different?”
There was a long, aching pause that followed my question. He looked torn between two different situations, two different answers to my question. With tears in his eyes, and not without a hint of regret in his voice, he said, “Maggie, you've read the wrong part of the Tanakh. If you'd read the book of Hosea, perhaps your captivating eyes would have seen what mine see so clearly.”
That was all he needed to say. I yielded to his embrace without a word. What can a woman say when she's gone a lifetime knowing she was disposable, only to find herself in the arms of a man hinting at marriage: the one act which proclaims, “I can't live without you!”
I didn't know it then (or perhaps I did know, just not fully) but that day was a turning point for me. As impossible as it sounds, I tried to find a more respectable way to live. It wasn't easy, but he was worth it. I was intent on letting him know that he made the right choice. I knew I could never deserve him, but I would make him as proud to be my betrothed as I could. I didn't get very far, however. No one would forget who I was...
One day, after Hosea (that was my nickname for him, after our talk) had visited me and we spent the night together, he got dressed and was about to leave when I heard some commotion outside my door. Men's agitated voices in low tones came roaring through the walls, and before I had a chance to clothe myself, they burst into the room. Immediately, Hosea grabbed me, and I was so grateful that he loved me enough to protect me. It took me some time to realize why he had grabbed me. He wasn't defending me, he was taking me to them!
I woke up from my dreamlike state and made myself realize what they were saying.
“What are you doing here, Ezekiel?” a young, zealous man had asked Hosea.
“With her? The prostitute?” His tone was incredulous. I couldn't believe he called me that... he hadn't ever spoken to me with anything but tenderness in his voice, but oh! How quickly it had turned to disgust! - “I just saw her in here with a married man – I barged in here to speak to him about his lack of judgment before he made this dire mistake, but he fled out the window and down the street!”
“Is that so? We were told that a married man of your likeness had been visiting her regularly. Are you saying that you are not the man?”
“What would I want with her? Only an utter BUFFOON would fritter away his time with a wicked harlot! I am a temple guard of good standing, and I love my family dearly.”
He had a family? A wife and children? For the first time since hearing him speak of me so coldly, I agreed with him. What WOULD he want with an empty, no-good prostitute like me when his life had been so blessed?
I silently chided myself for not knowing better when he continued, “You men know me better than to accuse me of such things.”
“Do we?” The young man scowled at Ezekiel and would not back down. I had a feeling this may not be the first time they had challenged one another.
Ezekiel paused, and I saw a glimmer of terror in his face, but it quickly shifted to a look of cunning. I then found that the terror had come upon me, threatening to steal my breath as I waited for his reply. “If I were lying to you,” he said in a slow, calculated manner; “would I be bold enough to do this?” With that, he roughly grabbed me by the hair and shoved me outside. The sun glared accusingly at me, and the fragrant bedsheets that had accompanied me as I crushed men's dreams were now my only protection from the condemning, prying eyes of those on the street.
A loud rumble surrounded me as I realized that even more men from the temple had been waiting outside. They taunted and jeered at me, yelling coarse words disguised in a pious pity for my “profane lifestyle”. All the years I had thrown myself away came screaming back at me, and the light of the day greater contrasted the age of darkness within my heart. The blinders of sin had been torn off as I was prodded like a heifer to the slaughter, and I fully realized the futility of my actions. Who was I to think a man like Hosea-Ezekiel loved me? I adored him with every good thought my brain could muster, and esteemed him as I had never esteemed anyone, yet I could never be worthy of him. All of my dreams lay shattered along the road I walked to the temple that day, and I knew deserved every ounce of what was coming to me.
When we arrived at the temple, the clamor of the crowds shamed me further. I raised my head just enough to see where I was going, and saw a group of men talking with one another. Hosea roughly grabbed my arm with his left hand – the same hand with which he had, moments earlier, tenderly caressed my face before showering me with gentle kisses – and forced me to stand before the men. The revulsion on their faces spoke for them, but as Ezekiel spoke, they turned to their unattractive leader without uttering a word.
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone...”
I heard nothing else from him, as my thoughts grew louder than his voice. Stone me..? My Hosea would stone me? I sank to the ground in utter sorrow, wailing uncontrollably as my tears formed a river under my head.
How could I have forgotten? The Law was written upon my young heart by my parents, but the harsh cruelty of the world had erased it from my memory, until now. I was not only going to be scorned and mocked today, but today would also be the day of my death. I would never have spent time with Ezekiel if I'd known he had a family – or would I have? Was I so desperate that I didn't care who lavished their affection and attention upon me? I loved him, oh, I loved him, and I would never think of pouring greater woe upon Hosea's wife and children by telling anyone our secret. I would die with love in my heart and a closed mouth, and it would be the only honorable thing I'd ever done.
My thoughts were interrupted by a gaping silence as the men, and Hosea, waited for their Teacher's reply. I'd heard some hasty footsteps before as some temple guards rushed to provide every man with a stone for me. The Teacher was writing something in the dirt next to me, but I dared not raise my face to him. The silence seemed to last an eternity, but then he said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
Disbelief at what I had heard overwhelmed me, until I heard the stones dropping around me. I flinched with each sound I heard, sure that someone would ignore the Teacher's words. Ezekiel's shadow was the first that disappeared, but soon it seemed as if everyone had gone. Finally I gathered the boldness to shift my gaze upward. The Teacher and I were left alone. "Woman,” he said, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
In a feeble, weak voice, I managed to reply, “"No one, sir." Who was this man?
"Then neither do I condemn you," He declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
As I stood up, still in shock, I caught a glimpse of what he'd written in the sand:
“You know, as well as I, what you have done.”
I walked the long road back to my parents' house that day, tears in my eyes and grateful for this mysterious man and his compassionate ways.
That was only the beginning of my story; only a portion of what He did in my life. I was swept away by a humble carpenter, in a friendship that I had never before experienced. Did I love Him, you ask? Of course I loved him... I loved him as a child trapped in a burning home loves the man who snatches her from the flames. I loved him as a drowning victim loves her rescuer. His love was so pure and complete, so perfect, that there was no need or desire for any tainted counterfeits. I will love my Lord with the same purity, affection and dedication that he has shown for me, and a may my worship of Him be as a fragrant incense.