15 Shekels: A Love Story

The below is a retelling of an incredible old testament story, originally concieved by Albert VanWoodsen, a minister in a Free Methodist church outside of San Diego, California.

I was fortunate enough to witness a much shorter version of this message, and walked away spell bound.   Maybe it captured my attention because of its MTV/Jerry Springer feel.   It is certainly a juicy story.    Maybe it had to do with the love that exists throughout the story, and the trust that we have which says in the end, that that love will never fail.  Either way it stayed with me.   

With permission, I extended the story, changed it, and made it a sermon some time ago.     As I prepared the message, I also found the attached sketch of the two, and from time to time found myself lost in the image.    I have yet to figure out who drew the picture, and sadly, I use it without permission.   Hopefully, the artist (whoever he or she may be) would believe that this message edifies the drawing.    This story is a familiar one, and we easily can picture ourselves in the middle of it.

We begin by picturing a busy market.   Not a market like Hannaford’s or Price Chopper, but a market from two thousand years ago.   Imagine a market in the Middle East over 700 years before the birth of Christ.   This is the village I want you to imagine.

This place is beyond filthy by today’s standards.   Dust and Dirt not only cover all that is being sold, but all those who are busily moving from cart to cart.   The market is at the center and most populated places in the city.    As a matter of fact, some of the faces we see seem to exist separate from the market itself.

All types of people have taken up residence on the fringes of this hectic market.    The streets, filthy as they are, not only serve as a place to hawk your wares, but to dump sewage, trash, and even the sick.   The smells of filth merge with the smells of food cooking and the unkempt animal stalls, and they hang heavily in the hot Middle Eastern afternoon.  There is no description adequate to describe those smells.

Walking through the market, you are hit hard by the sights and sounds.   All types of treasures and all types of spectacle are all around you.    The voices of beggars are combined with the voice of merchants and customers bargaining over the best price. None remain more than noise.  There is a musician playing a lyre off to the side, in hopes of separating you from a coin or two.    All these sounds; the good and the bad, have combined with the smells to make all your senses seem as if they had gone into overdrive.

As you walk through this mass of confusion and chaos, your ear catches something in the distance that is louder than the rest of the mob around you.   It’s an auctioneer, selling something and he has attracted quite a crowd.    You can’t help but find yourself wandering closer.  The auctioneer’s words ring through the crowd with stinging intensity. 

“Six Shekels, I’m bid six shekels,…who will make it seven?  You sir, will you make it 7?    No?   7 Shekels is a small price to pay for this slave woman, everyone knows this.”

There on a podium not a few yards from you stand, is a woman, naked and dirty.   It’s not hard to see that she wasn’t taken care of.   You can see every rib, and her body is covered in bruises.    Oddly you are captivated by this woman…something seems different… 

Perhaps it’s her hair.  You can see the long black hair, and you just know that it wasn’t that long ago, when that hair would have been beautifully cared for… now it’s dirty and full of lice.   It’s matted and dull.

Moving beyond her hair, you start thinking it’s the eyes.   Her eyes are dark not with make up or cosmetic, but rather fatigue and abuse. They are haunting.   You are positive that at another time or another place, the beauty of her black eyes would have brought men to their knees.   They would have turned Kings into Jesters.  It might have brought you to your knees.  The more you think about it the more certain you are that they would have.

That was a long time ago.    There is no doubt that whatever happiness and joy this woman had, left her a long time ago.   In her place stands sadness and defeat.   Those beautiful black eyes…are now empty.

8 Shekels?   Do I hear 8 Shekels?    Come on folks this is a great buy!   Where will you ever find a slave woman for 8 Shekels?   I promise you, the ones to come will go for 20 – 40 – 50 times this!   Anyone, 8 Shekels?

As the bidding continues, it’s obvious that although the woman is standing right there on the block, she is a million miles away.    She is in a different place.   She is in that place where she sees what was, and what could have been.   

She is rewinding the memories of her life.

She had not always been a slave.   She was born free.    She wasn’t treasure of war.  She wasn’t destined to be a slave.   It was something else.   She chose slavery.   She was once as free as the man who held her chains.  It seemed so long ago, and so far away, that it almost didn’t seem real.   It seems as if that life was just a dream.

She remembers her wedding day.   Everything was so perfect.   She looked so beautiful, with the finest clothes.   The celebration was incredible.   There was music and food.   The finest food and the finest wine was in large supply.   Everything was there; her husband had not cut a single corner or spared a single expense.  

The whole village had turned out to celebrate with them.   There were all types of food, and drink.   Fruits and vegetables, three kinds of meat; all made ready and with perfection for the guests.   Everything was perfect.  

Her body aches at the memory of the food.   If only she could have just a taste of it today.   The pain of her empty stomach, the memory of that day, and the collection of smells in the market, makes her knees quiver a bit.  She drifts off to another place.   If those around her were paying attention they would see another instant in the long time breaking of her heart.

She is snapped out of the daze of her mind by the snap of a stick that the slave trader used as both whip and attention getter.

I said turn around woman.  Show this crowd your backside.  Show them every inch of who you are.   Anyone 8 Shekels?

With a shame that was palpable, she lowers the torn fabric covering her naked body, and slowly turns to show each part of her naked, battered and bruised body.   

See the lash marks?   See the scars?   They are old.   She has learned her discipline a long time ago.   She is well worth the 9 shekels,…who will give me ten?   Ten for a slave that doesn’t need to be taught discipline?

In the humiliation of that moment, she finds herself back at her wedding day.   It was such a beautiful wedding.   Everything had been perfect.   Even her husband was perfect.   He was a good man.   He wasn’t rich, but he worked hard to provide all she wanted.   He was patient and kind.   He never struck her.   She couldn’t recall a cross word ever coming out his mouth.   He was a good husband….and a good father.

The images of her children, their faces….they arrive with a pain in her gut that is almost too hard for her to handle. It’s like she’s been kicked.  How old would they be now?   Are they okay?  

Of course they are, she says to herself.   They are with their father.   He was so gentle with her and with them.    He tried to picture them in their nice house, with their nice clothes, and she wanted to cry.    If she only she could do it over…if only she could do it over again….  What she wouldn’t do….  

She wanted to cry, but there were no more tears…

Ten shekels,…Im bid ten shekels…   Who will give me more…Do I hear 11.    We will never get to the better slaves, until you take her….

As the men stared upon her naked body, and refuse to bid,…she thinks about how men used to look at her.    She was so beautiful and soft then.   Her skin was soft, and her hair perfect.   Everywhere she went the heads would turn, and men would follow each of her steps, with a gaze that seemed impossible to break.     She loved the attention…   Oh, how her husband would beg and plead with her not to leave their home dressed as she was…  

She started to wonder when JUST the attention stopped being enough.   She remembers how little she was moved…or how little it bothered her… the first time a man gave her money for the affections that should have been reserved for her husband….She loved the money….the power…. The devotion….  She became a man’s idol and she loved it.

Her mind jumps to her husband, she sees the pain so clear and obvious on his face then, and it breaks her heart.   Why hadn’t she seen it then?   Why was she so stupid?   Why was she so blind…?  How could she have gotten so lost along the way?

He would have done anything.   His hurt and his pain were never hid.    What was so dark, so empty, so rotten within her….that kept her leaving that man…that good man….night after night…for the company of drunks, thugs, and nameless others?  Why was she so empty then?    Why was the passion, the urges, and the sins so much more appealing, than simply the love of that one good man….her husband?

Okay I got 10 shekels,….anyone willing to bid eleven?   I got ten….   Going once… Going twice….

She had been reduced to a harlot.   It was only a matter of time, before the men stopped looking at her.  She had become common.    She had become something less than common.  She was damaged goods.  She was soiled. 

She remembered the agony of seeing her beauty disappear, and eventually the men too.  There was nothing left.   She had nowhere to go.   She couldn’t go back to her husband…after the way she treated him.    He was a godly man….  He would turn away.      The law was clear….   If she would have returned they would have thrown stones on her. Isn’t breathing better than dying in that manner?  As she thinks about where she stood at that moment, she believed that dying might have been better for her.

She remembers that first night that she found herself on the edge of the garbage pit outside of the city.    She closes her eyes as she thinks about scurrying through the dump in search of anything not too spoiled or not too rotten.  She had found a piece of some sort of meat, and brushing away the maggots it became her meal.   She had become an animal, nothing more.    It was the bottom.

She was at that bottom…rock bottom, when she saw the slave trader.    He too took her, and after a while when she was no longer any good to him…He brought her here….To this day….He took her naked to the auction block….

Ten shekels, going twice….Ten….  What?   What did you say sir?   15?   15 Shekels?    Sir, I assure you that there are better women coming this day?   15 Shekels and 10 bushels of Barley,…   Sir….  Are you sure?…..   Um…  Okay,….15 shekels, and 10 bushels of barley….going once….going twice….  Sold….

In an instant the deal is done.   The one who bought the woman made his way to the auction block.  

Who was he the slave trader was sure to wonder…  Who cares was his gut answer….The seller counted the coins, and the barley…All the while trying to keep his smile from showing….   He couldn’t imagine the good fortune of getting such a price for this….  This tired old and beaten harlot…Let the tired old man have her.

The woman couldn’t move.   She couldn’t open her eyes.   She knew it was over…   But she couldn’t find the strength to go to one more man….one more owner who would use her as all the rest had done…. Maybe it would be for a few months this time….  She braced herself for the switch, whip, kick or the shove….Her eyes hard shut.

When she felt a soft, silken robe gently being placed upon her shoulder, her breath left her.    She looked down and saw hands closing the robe across her front.  She was no longer naked and exposed.    Slowly she turned around…surprised…anxious and confused….

It was Him….

It was her husband.    He was standing there with tears in his eyes, and slowly began to stroke her face…just as he did decades before….

Without a word of judgment,…or even a hint of disgust…He grabbed her face in both hands,…and with a softness and a tenderness she had forgotten…he asked her if she wanted to come home….  

Not as a street walker or as a slave….but as his wife.

The tears that had so long ago left her, flooded from her eyes.  

Her world spun.   Her knees gave out and she fell into his outstretched and waiting arms.  

As she felt his arms embracing her….   She knew…. She knew she was going home….    The emptiness was gone…

The story of Hosea,…and his wife….is a story about love.   It is the story of that unique love between a man and his wife.    The story of Hosea is also the story of another love;  The story of God’s love for each of us.

It is said, that a prophet has two roles as we see them in the Old Testament.  

The first is to show us how God Acts…and the second is to show us how we should.

This love, the love that God expresses, is for each and every person inside and outside of the church and the circle of our faith.   God stands waiting to bid on the auction for our lives, and the lives of billions of people.   This is who God is.

With that said, if God loves the harlot,…the hurt….the beaten and bruised so completely and wonderfully as this….Shouldn’t we?  Yet it doesn’t make any sense….  We most certainly want him to love us like this….  But it cant be the same for  him or her…. They are different…  They are druggies, they’re queer, she has had three kids from three different men….   He’s a wife beater…He’s a crook….he is in prison….He is a leper.  God’s promise if for us, it is not for them, right?

We come here,…we worship…we sacrifice… and the story of Hosea rocks us to our core.   The story of Hosea is our promise, not theirs.

It’s so sad, that too often we find ourselves remaking God…  We remake him into something that he is not…   We remake him into something less powerful…. Less mighty…Less loving.

I tell you what…  Take this story….   Take the story of Hosea and his wife,….Or any of the other stories in the book….and I challenge you to try to create a better, more incredible, or more life changing God than what is revealed here…  You won’t be able to do it….This God,…My God….Is so much better.

God’s love is just pain illogical.   God’s love doesn’t make sense. God’s love is a love unlike anything that I could have ever imagined.  You  can spend your days like Hosea’s wife….pursuing every broken promise, dream, and hope, until you are so far away from him, that you have a hard time sensing his presence.

You can embrace your broken lives and your dirty habits so much that you can’t even see how badly they are beating you down.   You can embrace the grit and dirt,…find yourself feeding from the garbage dumps around us….and ask yourself how in God’s name did you end up there.

But know this….

God’s love is unconditional, unqualified, and unrelenting.    In your nakedness, in your shame… in your lowest moments… He is waiting to put a robe upon your shoulders…. 

He is reaching out a grabbing your face in his hands…and through tears telling you….No asking you….  To come home.  Come Home.  Please Come Home with Me….

(To Read the Hosea Story, Click Here)

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