I’ve been thinking about a character in the Bible this weekend who wasn’t named. She joins a host of characters, many of them women, who had a powerful impact on those on history. While it’s true little was actually known about them apart from one, maybe two, simple stories where they appeared, small chapters of their lives affected us.
This woman played her humble role during the life of Jesus, early in His ministry. Later on, there was a similar incident shortly before He died, with Mary, the sister of Lazarus, in her home. It is recorded in three of the gospels. One of the ways we know it isn’t this incident is because of where it happened, when it happened, and Jesus’ response.
This one certainly was a dramatic one if you happened to be in the room! Take a minute to read the story. Think how about you might have felt if you had been there!
One of the Pharisees asked him (Jesus) to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 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. And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon,“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.
And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:36-50 ESV
Imagine hearing Jesus tell one of the top sinners (in your mind) of the town, that all her sins were forgiven! You would either think He was crazy or if He could do it, He was definitely more than simply a man. Of course, this was what angered the Pharisees. To them, it was a claim by Jesus that He was GOD. They did not like it.
There is a lot to unpack in this section. I won’t do all of it here today. Included here is the story of what happened along with a parable that Jesus used to teach Simon the Pharisee, along with anyone in earshot, some truth.
What are the facts of the story?
So first, lets look at the story. What happened? Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee (a devout religious leader.) These men were very theologically correct in their doctrine and kept the rules to a T. They often prided themselves in how well they kept the rules as was demonstrated by many of Jesus’ comments to them during His time on earth. He was not impressed by their rule keeping. They were not happy that He was not impressed since most everyone else was!
While they were all eating. And incidentally, they ate in more of a reclining position, lying rather than sitting with their feet behind them. (Their “chairs” were more like a long coffee table with pillows or if the home was very affluent, like chaise lounges. Faces were toward the middle and feet were away from the food. Then the food was on the floor in the middle of the couches. They ate most of the food with their hands or bread dipped in gravy and eating the food.
My understanding is that the area where they ate was very well lit and there was usually entertainment that drew bystanders who watched. It was probably more open than a closed in dining room like we have. It might have been more like a private patio area that was easily accessible to people walking by.
This woman probably knew Jesus was going to be there and made her way to the house. She must have made quite a scene. I can’t imagine that the conversation continued as she began weeping to the degree that her tears wet his feet and she had to dry them with her hair! Then she kissed his feet and opened the expensive perfume/ointment and rubbed in on his feet. It must have been soothing for Him since He walked everywhere. Considering she was able to afford this perfumed ointment, she must have been successful at her craft. It was not cheap.
Have you ever been in a social setting where someone is much more emotional than you are? It can make you uncomfortable can’t it? You try to understand where they are coming from , but I have been in those settings and often wanted to leave the room because of my discomfort.
With all this going on, what was the response of the host?
To himself, Simon said, “This man can’t be a prophet or he wouldn’t let this woman near him!” And about that time, Jesus said He had something to say to Simon. Simon knew all the rules of what made a person clean and unclean. Having an obviously sinful woman touching a man who claimed to be a holy GOD seemed unthinkable to Simon.
Then Jesus told Him the parable.
For the purposes of our use today, the definition of a parable is a true-to-life story with a series of comparisons designed to teach a central truth. What do you think was the central truth of the parable?
The idea that Jesus was treated so poorly by His host is surprising! A good host would have greeted his guest with a kiss. Most hosts would have at least had their guests’ feet washed. They walked a lot. It was dusty and their feet got dry, sore and calloused. Because of the dry area, their skin tended to be very dry and frequently, a host would also provide oil to moisten their skin as well as provide it for healing properties after a day in the sun. This host had done none of this.
This woman ministered to Jesus in a considerate way, doing the service of the most menial slaves in the home. But she did it because of her love for Jesus. It had nothing to do with sexual attraction. It was her deep appreciation and worship of Him because He had forgiven her even though she didn’t deserve it.
Because of her profession, she was invisible to many in the town.
She was one of the invisibles of the town. Many looked the other way when she came around. They knew what she did for a living and they didn’t like it. She hated that she did it, but it was one of the few ways women could survive if they were not married in that day.
She understood that Jesus was more than a good man. He was GOD, the holy GOD. He was willing to forgive her and embrace her as His child. As you read on, you see that He forgives her because of her faith.
The more I think about this story, the more I love it. There are a lot of parallels between this story and that of the Prodigal Son. It reminds us that the one who understands how much she is forgiven will love much!
If we are like the Pharisee, who considered that he didn’t need forgiveness, we will have no appreciation for Jesus’ offer of forgiveness!
It’s something to think about!