Isn’t it interesting that on three different occasions in the story of Jesus that three different women respond to him in a seemingly spontaneous outpouring of praise and adoration? And two of these women weren’t even of the sort that most people – in Jesus’ day or in ours – would have given even passing notice except perhaps to look down on them. Today we look at the second of these women.
“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:37-39).
Jesus had been asked to dine with a Pharisee. It seems strange to us, but apparently at this early time in Jesus’ ministry the hostility between himself and the leading sect of the Jews had not reached the level it later would when they would be openly opposed to him. Another thing that seems strange to us was that on an occasion such as this the house of the host would be open and people could come in and watch as he entertained his guest.
That is how this sinful woman happened to come into the Pharisee’s house. As Simon the host on this occasion later indicated, he would not have invited her and Jesus shouldn’t have allowed her near him either. It is probable from what Luke tells us about the thought of his heart that this woman was known to the Pharisee. We are not told what her sin was. Some speculate that she was a prostitute, but that is not certain. It was a bold move on her part to come, not only uninvited, but knowing the attitude of the host toward her.
No doubt she had heard Jesus utter his great invitation shortly before; “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). That speech had taken place soon after the visit from the messengers of John the Baptist. Luke records the event of the supper invitation as happening very near the same time. His tender pleading and promise of rest from the enslavement of sin had appealed to her and she wanted to be free from her burden.
Even before a word had been said, she evidences the contrition of her heart with her tears which she uses to wash Jesus’ feet. In her humility she wiped his feet with her hair. Then in an act of extreme, lavish extravagance she opened a container of expensive perfumed ointment and anointed his feet with it. No one had told her to do this. She did not ask Jesus’ permission. She very likely had given thought previously to what she was going to do, so it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. But as far as we know it was unprecedented.
From what she had seen and heard of Jesus, she knew he would not send her away. She fully believed she could trust him with her very life – that he would restore and make her whole again. She doesn’t confess her sin. She doesn’t ask forgiveness. She doesn’t need to. Jesus knew. She simply shows her great love for the one whom she knew she could trust with her pitiful remnant of a life.
What is remarkable is that Jesus allowed this to be done to him! It was almost more than Simon could stand! He doesn’t express his thoughts openly, but they were known to Jesus nevertheless. And before he says a word to this pitiful wretch of a human being he addressed Simon; “Simon, I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40).
Simon had said nothing, but had thought plenty… “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (v. 39). He, being a Pharisee, of the “set apart” or “separate” ones, would not have thought of allowing a sinful woman touch his person and thought that if Jesus were a prophet he would also have known who and what this woman was and not allowed himself to be touched by her. With their strict interpretation of the law and their devotion to separation from all sin, he probably thought that for a sinner to touch him would have contaminated him with sin. So for Jesus to have allowed this woman to touch him meant that either he did not know who and what this woman was or that he did not care. In either case, to Simon it meant that he could not have been a prophet sent from God. He probably was about to judge Jesus as being unworthy of his consideration.
Simon responded to Jesus… “Say it, Teacher,” and listens as Jesus has his say to him. Jesus told him a parable about a moneylender who had loaned two men some money – one 500 denarii and the other 50. (A denarius in the Roman currency was equal to one days pay). When neither one could repay their loans the lender forgave their debts. Then he asked Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon correctly supposes that the one whose debt was the greatest would love him more.
Jesus told him that the woman, like the man who had been forgiven a great debt, was showing him great love. Simon hadn’t even shown him the common courtesy of washing his feet, giving him a kiss of greeting or of honoring him by anointing his head with oil. It is interesting that Luke observes that upon Jesus’ arrival “he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.” There were no greetings, no courtesies shown him, no formalities of any kind. It seems that as far as the Pharisee was concerned there was nothing but suspicion. He had invited Jesus to evaluate him, not to befriend him.
But this sinful woman had poured out extravagant love upon Jesus even though he had at this point done nothing for her except perhaps to teach in her hearing. She had, unlike Simon, lovingly and generously washed his feet with her tears, hadn’t ceased kissing his feet and had anointed his feet with expensive perfumed ointment. Jesus said of her actions…
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (v. 47).
Jesus then said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (v. 48). Jesus knew why she had done what she did. He knew what this woman needed and gave it to her. He knew she had faith in him. That is what brought her to this place where she no doubt knew she would be criticized and condemned. Jesus said she did to him what she did because of her love for him, even though he had at this point done nothing for her. Her confidence in him was that it would be done. She acted as though she had already been forgiven! No doubt she knew far more about God’s love than did the strict, rule-oriented Pharisee who could never admit that he needed forgiveness for his unloving, judgmental standoffishness!
She could go on her way from now on free from the burden of guilt and shame she had borne. She could love others without reservation which would enrich and expand her life beyond the narrow prison people like Simon the Pharisee would impose on her. On the other hand, Simon would never be free from his self imposed prison of unloving, sanctimonious self-righteousness. What made the difference? Love!