Luke 7:36 [Jesus] went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
This was not a friendly meal so much as a formal interview with a rising rabbi. Invited guests probably included the Pharisee’s friends and Jesus’ disciples. Such events could be semi-public, with uninvited guests staying away from the table, and paying quiet attention to the conversation.
Luke 7:37-38 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.
To imagine this scene correctly, it helps to understand the dining arrangement. They were not sitting on chairs around a high table, but lying on mats around a low table, just a few inches off the ground. This explains how the woman had access to Jesus’ feet without going under the table.
The Bible does not tell us the woman’s name, but it reveals much about her. First, she lived a sinful life, which probably means she was a prostitute. This was not something women aspired to, but was often a matter of survival. Her issues included guilt, shame and social rejection.
Second, she knew something of Jesus Christ, or she would not have come to this event. Perhaps she heard him preach, and saw the radical difference he made in the lives of others. Her sin contrasted with his holiness, but she felt drawn to him.
Third, she was courageous, since she invited herself to the most self-righteous party in town. If you have ever been to a party where you felt out of place, you know how awkward it can be. Double that feeling, or triple it, and you know what she was going through.
Fourth, she understood worship. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them. This is the most lavish display of worship found in the gospels. It made everyone feel uncomfortable, except Jesus, who truly enjoyed her lavish display of love.
Jesus was happy to receive worship, not only for the glory it brought him, but for the good it brought to others. By adoring Jesus Christ, we see him at the center of reality, and find our rightful place in the world he created.
Luke 7:39 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.
Pharisees were repulsed by physical contact with sinners, because they feared religious contamination. But Jesus knew the reverse was taking place. He was not being contaminated by her; she was being purified by him. She was being transformed from a woman of vice, to a woman of virtue; from a woman of the night, to a woman of the light.
Several years ago I met a lady who used to be a prostitute, and ran a business of prostitution. Then she was arrested and sent to prison. There she came to faith in Jesus Christ, and was so transformed, that she became remarkable for her godliness. The power of Christ to change peoples’ lives is one of the most amazing things about him.
Luke 7:44-46 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.
This dinner party had started badly. Not only was Simon a terrible host, he was shockingly rude to his guest of honor. Foot washing was a a basic courtesy in every home. Not offering it to Jesus was not an oversight, but a deliberate snub.
A kiss on the cheek is still practiced in Eastern culture and corresponds to our handshake. But Jesus was not welcomed in this way either. Perfumed oil was sometimes applied to the head, but this hospitality was also forgone. The sinful woman did everything Simon the Pharisee had not. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.
Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
Simon had religion, but not forgiveness. That’s why he had no affection for Jesus Christ. The woman had little religion, but she had been forgiven. That’s why she loved Jesus so much. Whoever is thankful to Jesus Christ is probably forgiven, and whoever is not thankful to Jesus Christ is probably not forgiven. It is almost inconceivable that a person would be forgiven all their sins, and not want to worship Jesus Christ.
Luke 7:48-50 Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
These are the most comforting words there are, to those who have felt the weight of their sins. We need to hear them the first time we come to Christ, and many times thereafter.
A young lady and her fiancé were youth leaders in their church, and brought many of the young people to faith in Jesus Christ. They taught about sexual purity, but failed themselves, and she became pregnant. Then they had an abortion, to save their reputations, and were later married in the church.
My wedding day was the worst day of my life, she said. As I was marching up the aisle in my lily white dress with all the people smiling and congratulating me, a voice within me was screaming—you are a murderer.
Years later she could not get over her sin, because she could not believe that God would forgive her. She went to a Christian counselor who explained that she had underestimated two things: her own sinfulness, and the grace of Jesus Christ.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10), wrote Paul.
Jesus has always been a friend of sinners—even Christian sinners. One of the great ironies of Christianity is that our sin can bring us closer to Christ, if we believe in his forgiveness. He died on a cross for our sins, so that we can be forgiven, and love him forever. Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
Reflection and Review
How does worshipping Jesus Christ help the worshipper?
Why is gratitude a good indication that we are forgiven?
How can our sin bring us closer to Christ?