A SINFUL WOMAN POURS OIL ON JESUS’ FEET
FORGIVENESS ILLUSTRATED WITH A DEBTOR
Depending on their heart condition, people respond differently to what Jesus says and does. That becomes clear at a house in Galilee. A Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus to a meal, perhaps to get a closer look at the one performing such remarkable works. Likely viewing this as an opportunity to minister to those present, Jesus accepts, even as he has on other occasions accepted invitations to eat with tax collectors and sinners.
However, Jesus does not receive the cordial attention usually given to guests. On dusty roads in Palestine, sandal-clad feet become hot and dirty, so it is a customary act of hospitality to wash a guest’s feet with cool water. That is not done for Jesus. Neither does he receive a welcoming kiss, as is common. Another custom is to pour some oil on a guest’s hair out of kindness and hospitality. This too is not done for Jesus. So how welcome is he really?
The meal begins, with the guests reclining at the table. As they eat, a woman quietly enters the room uninvited. She is “known in the city to be a sinner.” (Luke 7:37) All imperfect humans are sinners, yet this woman seems to be living an immoral life, perhaps as a prostitute. She may have heard Jesus’ teachings, including his invitation for ‘all those who are loaded down to come to him for refreshment.’ (Matthew 11:28, 29) Apparently moved by Jesus’ words and deeds, she has now sought him out.
She comes up behind Jesus at the table and kneels at his feet. Tears fall from her eyes onto his feet, and she wipes them with her hair. She tenderly kisses his feet and pours on them some fragrant oil that she has brought. Simon watches with disapproval, saying to himself: “If this man were really a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman it is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”
Perceiving Simon’s thinking, Jesus says: “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replies: “Teacher, say it!” Jesus continues: “Two men were debtors to a certain lender; the one was in debt for 500 denarii, but the other for 50. When they did not have anything to pay him back with, he freely forgave them both. Therefore, which one of them will love him more?” Perhaps with an air of indifference, Simon answers: “I suppose it is the one whom he forgave more.”
Jesus agrees. Then looking at the woman, he says to Simon: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet. But this woman wet my feet with her tears and wiped them off with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but this woman, from the hour that I came in, did not stop tenderly kissing my feet. You did not pour oil on my head, but this woman poured perfumed oil on my feet.” Jesus could see that this woman was giving evidence of heartfelt repentance for her immoral life. So he concludes: “I tell you, her sins, many though they are, are forgiven, because she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Jesus is not excusing immorality. Rather, he is manifesting compassionate understanding of people who commit serious sins but who then show that they are sorry and turn to Christ for relief. And what relief this woman feels when Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”