People often mention this as their favorite story in the Bible. See what you think…
Luke 7:36-50 NIV (edited) – “Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and 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 men 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 canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“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—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Understanding this story requires a little bit of background in the etiquette of the day. A dinner guest would expect to be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks, in the fashion still practiced by men of the region today; to have the dust of the road washed off his feet; and to have something sweet-smelling like incense or scented oil presented. He would recline (not sit) while eating, and in the case of a visiting Rabbi, it would not be unusual to have people standing around waiting to hear anything the Rabbi might say.
So this day one of the onlookers is a woman with a reputation. She must have heard Jesus speak before, or perhaps met Him before, and has been deeply touched by His words. She loves him so much she forgets herself. Weeping over the pain and degradation of her past, she lets down her hair in public — a scandalous act in that day — and cleans Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair. She kisses His feet and pours expensive perfume over them. The sound of her weeping and the smell of the perfume must have filled the air, yet she is oblivious to anything or anyone but Jesus and her love for Him.
Meanwhile, the Pharisee sits back, judging her. Anyone who has ever been judged by a leader of the church knows the sting of this kind of judgmentalism. There is no defense against it. This religious leader of the nation, hosting the Son of God for dinner, fails to show Him even the basic respect one would give any guest. Then when a sinner shows up at his table, he’s not interested in doing his job. He should be reaching out to her, tending to her needs, but all he can do is think about is how wrong Jesus is for allowing a sinner to touch Him.
Jesus is quick to correct this attitude and defend the woman. Love is what it’s all about, He says… and she has great love, she has love upon love.
It has been said that the church’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” and this story is an excellent example of how and why.
Lack of awareness of sin is a warning sign pointing to the need to rediscover one’s shortcomings and need for Jesus. If you find yourself here, it’s time for a little one-on-one confession.
On the other hand, an overwhelming awareness of sin, guilt, or regret leads straight to His heart. If you find yourself here, He won’t reject your love. You’re trusting the right person when you bring your heart to Him.
“The one thing that shuts a person off from God is self-sufficiency.”
— William Barclay