One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him–that she is a sinner.”
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 bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing 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 were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-39, 44-48)
Jesus is asked to have a meal with a Pharisee – and he accepts. We know from other stories in the Bible that the Pharisees considered themselves paragons of virtue, most holy men who were very unhappy with things that they were hearing about Jesus. We could wonder if the Pharisee invited Jesus to try to ‘get the goods’ on him. It would not be the first or last time they tried to trap Jesus.
Probably knowing this, Jesus accepted the invitation and expected to be welcomed as a guest. In this time, it was usual that when a guest came to a home, the host had a servant wash the guest’s feet and anoint them with oil. This served two purposes: everyone walked everywhere on dusty road and it was hot and feet could get pretty smelly. By washing the feet and applying oil, the feet were clean, didn’t smell, making the banquet room a little more pleasant. And according to Jewish law, it was an honor accorded guests.
But as the scripture says, Simon the Pharisee did not give Jesus the honor greeting him with a kiss, and washing and putting ointment on his feet. He treated him like a servant, or at least a lesser, unworthy person.
It was also a custom of the day that there were no closed doors on houses; when someone walked by, they could see who was in the house. And it was acceptable to come in to see what was going on. So this woman, who had obviously not only heard of Jesus, but also knew him as a prophet, entered the house.
We heard that she cried on Jesus’ feet, wiped them off with her own hair, kissed them and poured expensive perfume on them. Then she continued to kiss his feet and soothe them with ointment.
Simon did not react well to it at all. In fact, he used it as proof that Jesus was not who people said he was: a prophet. 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.” (Luke 7:39)
Now, we don’t know who the woman was, what her sin was, or if she was a prostitute, which is implied. All we know is she came from the street to care for Jesus. In reality, compared to Jesus, even Simon the Pharisee was a sinner, although he would never admit it.
Jesus reminded Simon that the ‘sinful’ woman showed Him much more love and honor than Simon had. He declared that her sins were forgiven and sent her off, saying
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)
You see, the woman may have been sinful, but she was still seeking Jesus. She probably wasn’t a faithful Jew; she probably didn’t attend synagogue weekly. But she loved Jesus more than the righteous Simon. Her prior actions were sinful but her heart was loving, and Jesus saw into her heart. The sinful one was more in touch with Jesus than the righteous Pharisee.
The woman doted on Jesus. She didn’t care that there were others there who looked down on her. She cared only about what Jesus thought about her. She didn’t care how many hypocrites were around – her worship was focused on Jesus.
So what does this story tell us;
what does it mean for us?
First of all, we are not to judge another person by their actions or reputation. Simon may have acted holy, but in reality, he was not living according to the teachings of Jesus. He judged everyone according to his yardstick and found everyone else lacking.
This story is really about the sinful woman and the love that she showed Jesus. It didn’t matter how good the woman was, compared to anyone else. All that mattered is that she loved Jesus. She realized how little she deserved to be with Jesus, and she was just grateful for what she had. She loved much because she was forgiven much.
Just like the Pharisee looked down on the woman, we have all been in situations where someone tried to make us feel unworthy, or lower than themselves. But we know that we are all beloved of God and Jesus, no matter what. Jesus accepts us and forgives us, warts and all.
We don’t have to be perfect worship Jesus. As Jesus said, when we are aware of our own shortcomings, when we acknowledge the holiness of Jesus, when we know we can’t earn forgiveness, we know God loves and cares for us anyway. We will receive from God much more than we can ever give. And that includes eternal life!
We need to be thankful for God’s love – and love Him back.
So I say, love Jesus.
Honor Him in your hearts.
Try to follow his teachings.
Remember all that you’ve been forgiven of.
Don’t forget all His goodness to you.
Because, just like the woman, we are promised eternal life through the forgiveness of God and the love of Jesus.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; June 12, 2016