When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke 7:36-47
Today’s passage has many interesting eddies and whirlpools of wisdom, lets dive in and see what we can plumb from the depths of this discourse. I confess I just love the way Luke writes and recounts these stories about Jesus – so many details and layers of meaning and metaphor.
In this story Jesus is having dinner at the house of a Pharisee. Given His previous interactions with these religious leaders I am somewhat surprised that this Pharisee would have invited Him at all. Perhaps he wanted to catch Him in some sort of “sin” or association like the one that is described in this passage.
A woman shows up uninvited to the Pharisee’s dinner party. This is not just any woman but a woman “who lived a sinful life”. Although it does not say I would think that the most likely sin she would have been guilty of at the time was a sexual sin in the form of prostitution, marital infidelity, or adultery. I am a little surprised that she was even able to get close to Jesus and that she was given access to the house. Perhaps they were eating in a courtyard where there was room for people to gather around the central “important” people while they were eating. Maybe the Pharisee allowed her access with the intention of “trapping” Jesus. I do not know.
Whatever the means or method the woman finds herself at Jesus’ feet doing something that probably made the Pharisee uncomfortable, “As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Jesus saw a tender soul seeking a savoir that could strip away the of sin of her life with His love and forgiveness. The Pharisee, looking at the same woman, could only see a sinful woman wasting her expensive perfume in a hopeless attempt at salvation. Jesus uses this event to help Peter to “see” this woman, and others like her, the way He does rather than like the Pharisee.
The Pharisee was musing within his mind “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.” Of course Jesus knew this woman, and the Pharisee, better than they knew themselves. He just chose to see them as they could be through the forgiveness and grace of God. Jesus saw possibilities while the Pharisee saw only sin and separation from God – unforgivable uncleanness.
Interestingly, Jesus chooses to talk directly to Simon rather than the Pharisee in response to the Pharisee’s internal musings about the woman. Jesus uses a story of financial debt forgiveness to get to the heart of the matter. We all have a debt in the form of sin. Some have “big” debts and others have smaller debts but there is no one who is without sin. We all have some examples of falling short of loving God with our whole heart, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.
The point Jesus is trying to make with Simon is that those who have messed up in big ways are more appreciative of forgiveness that those who, at least on the surface, have less sin to forgive. I get what Jesus is saying, but I think in reality sin is not like money, it is more like the scent of a skunk. It only takes a little to make us stink, it is really hard to get off, and it does not matter if you smell a little like a skunk or a lot no one wants to be around you. In fact the only way to get the “stink” of sin off is to accept the salvation offered by the Savoir, whether yours sins are big or small.
Jesus’ point here is that your level of “stinkiness”, sin, does not determine your ability to love God or others. This woman was able to show her love for Jesus in a way that the Pharisee was not. Jesus summarizes “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.”
The woman’s external actions demonstrated a wondering soul ready to love God and accept the grace of God and forgiveness Jesus offered. She showed that she had great love in her heart despite the “stain” of sin that was all the Pharisee could see. She gave her tears, samples of her soul, to Jesus in a way that revealed where heart was residing, and it was with God.
The way Jesus describes her forgiveness of sins is interesting. He says “her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.” Her demonstrations of great love was the external evidence of the forgiveness of her sins that had already been accomplished in her soul when she sought out Jesus for help.
This story is comforting confirmation that the forgiveness of our sins is only as far away as our actions and acceptence keep it. Salvation does not requires unattainable Pharisaical perfection. It only requires a soul that is seeking after God. If we seek after Jesus with the passion and pursuit of this “sinful” woman then we will find him and the forgiveness He offers. God is seeking us while we are seeking Him, even if we do not know it.
Prayer: God You love us and want to teach us how to love You and others. Help us to accept the forgiveness You freely offer so we can love you and others more effectively.