Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 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 she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The background to our Encounter With The Messiah episode takes place in Galilee. Our Lord travels from Capernaum to Nain where He raises a widow’s son from the dead during his funeral procession. News of Jesus’ many miracles travelled far and wide, reaching John the Baptist, who sends two of his disciples to enquire whether Jesus was the Messiah: “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:20). The Lord allowed His actions to speak for Him; healing the blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf, and the dead were raised (Luke 7:21-22). As Johns’ disciples left to deliver the good news Jesus addresses the crowd, proclaiming that John the Baptist “was more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26). The Pharisees that were present had rejected John and Jesus’ talk of him, which our Lord scolds them for in Luke 7:31-35. It is one of these Pharisees, Simon who invites Jesus to dinner, most likely as entertainment than by courtesy.
Some have suggested that the woman in this story is Mary Magdalen or that this incident is related to His anointing in Bethany. There is no connection in either case. The time, place and people are completely unrelated – thus the identity of this woman is unknown. Indeed her identity is secondary to her salvation and adoration of the Messiah at Simon’s dinner party.
High profile dinners as found in this story were civic events for everyone to come and here conversations of the esteemed guests, it was a source of pride for the host. The guests reclined at the dinner table listened to by the visitors on the periphery of the room. The presence of Jesus the Rabbi from Nazareth probably drew a larger crowd. All was going as planned by Simon until audible gasps could be heard as a known sinful woman appeared, pushing her way through to stand by the Master’s feet at the table. How dare she! There were mutterings of disapproval, and then there were those who relished the prospect of the upstart Nazarene making some error with this sinful creature. Was this not a great opportunity for them?
As I meditated on this story it appeared to me that this woman not only knew about Jesus but had heard Him teach recently. Here was a repentant sinner who had heard the Good News. One has to admire the bravery of this woman, exposing herself to public disapproval. She is not deterred in her mission of gratitude and worship of her Lord and Saviour. Humbly she stoops as a servant would to wash His feet with copious tears, drying them with her hair and kissing them. Suddenly the room is filled with rich aroma as she opens a vial of perfume and anoints His feet. By this time conversations had ceased as all eyes were on the scene of adoration before them. Meanwhile Simon the host looked on disdainfully, thinking that this proved that this teacher was not a prophet as some had said.
Jesus looks at Simon, and he shared a parable with him and his guests of two debtors to a money lender. One owed much and the other owed little, Jesus asked Simon who he thought was the most grateful to be forgiven their debt. One can imagine the heads going to and fro from Simon to Jesus as Simon answered wisely that the debtor with the largest debt was the most grateful. Jesus then draws a direct comparison between the two debtors, Simon and the woman at His feet. Simon a religious man who was confident in his social status, but the woman knew she was a sinner in need of a Saviour – she was overwhelmed with gratitude to Him. How the tables had turned, the focus of attention was now on the woman rather than on Simon. Turning towards her Jesus says, “Your sins have been forgiven” and as voices were heard asking how this man could forgive sins the Messiah further says “Your faith has saved you; go in peace. “
Dear reader, can you imagine the ecstasy that filled this dear woman’s heart? Where before she walked with her head down, now she could stand upright. Her sins were gone, forgiven – she was now a child of God. What a fervent disciple of the Messiah she would surely become, sharing the Good News amongst her neighbours. Brethren have you been forgiven much by the Saviour, do you eagerly share the Good News of Salvation and how He changed your life?