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.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards 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.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (NRSV)
In our story, both Simon the Pharisee and Jesus the Christ encounter the same woman. But each man sees her through different eyes.
Simon knew his labeling her ‘sinner’ would find support. Her handy alabaster jar may be Luke’s hint at her profession. Such fragrance was often used to welcome into less dignified and less public situations. Is it the tool of prostitution?
If so, her reputation would have extended well beyond Jesus’ host. Some things become impossible to hide.
Mingling her reputation with her current behaviour leads Simon to certain conclusions of both her and his guest. Clearly – if Jesus is so significant – he should also know ‘…who and what kind of woman this is…’.
But there is no need to voice this. It is obvious.
Common convention expected a host to welcome with water, a kiss, an anointing. It may seem extravagant, but after walking in the dust and dirt a greeting like this would bring some relief. It indicated arrival at a place of safety and rest. It spoke of the host’s preparation and expectation. It was an act of service.
But Jesus it seems, despite being invited by Simon, was not welcome. On the contrary, Simon has culturally, and it would seem somewhat, publicly, snubbed Jesus.
Perhaps this helps us understand. Is this woman affronted by Simon’s rudeness? Can she no longer stand silently watching as Jesus is treated so poorly? How can she remedy the situation with only her perfume?
I suspect her willingness to cross all social lines has something to do with protecting Jesus’. But why would she make such a scene? What would motivate like this? Why such loyalty? After all, any act here is not going to enjoy the anonymity of darkness.
This woman’s willingness to openly break into the Pharisee’s world of dignity and order is brave indeed. As she breaks her perfume, weeps, washes, and wipes, does she see herself as expressing gratitude? Is she consciously restoring dignity to Jesus?
But her awareness is not really the issue. Jesus knows her gratitude and the power imbalance is restored. Her actions also rebuke this host. They expose Simon’s disingenuous hospitality and give opportunity for Jesus to address his lack of social grace.
But Jesus also takes the opportunity to highlight the love and faith of the very one Simon’s thoughts have cast aside.
It would seem Simon is not the only one who knows more of this woman. Jesus knows her. we know little, but whatever their previous encounter looked like, we can be assured that it did not share Simon’s harsh judgment. After all, Jesus has won this woman’s affection, loyalty, dedication and love.
Simon named her ‘sinner’. But Jesus has named her ‘forgiven’ – and himself ‘forgiver’.
And it inspired her boundless gratitude.