In the midst of Christ’s busy ministry of teaching and healing throughout the region of Galilee, one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dine in his home. Many of the Pharisees had already rejected the Messiah completely, but this one was still struggling with how to understand the coming of Jesus and His remarkable miracles. Could He be a prophet? Was He the Savior? This man was willing to ask the questions that many of his peers were not, and so in some ways, he was being brave. Especially when he brought Jesus into his home to eat with him.
The Lord went to his house and joined him at his dinner table. For the Jewish people, this act had a lot of meaning. It wasn’t just about getting a bite to eat. By inviting Jesus to eat with him, the Pharisee was showing he was willing to be identified with Jesus. By joining the Pharisee at his home, Jesus was showing the same.
The Jewish people of that day ate on tables very low to the ground. They would sit on cushions on the floor. Often, they would lay down on their sides, reclining as they shared a meal together.
Jesus was reclining at the table of this Pharisee when a woman came in the door. She was a woman who had plunged herself into a deeply sinful lifestyle. She spent her days committing destructive sins that hurt not only her life, but the lives in the community around her. She led others into temptation and engaged in sins with them that tore apart their families and devastated the very ones that God had called them to love with faithfulness and devotion. She had been rejected by the faithful Jews of the area for her poisonous influence on the Jewish community.
But something had happened in this woman. Something in her had changed. When she heard that Jesus was reclining at the table of this Pharisee, she had to go in and see Him. She brought an alabaster vial of perfume. This was a very expensive treasure, but what she was seeking from Jesus was worth far more.
She came behind Jesus and fell down at His feet, weeping the tears of her shame, remorse, and sorrow. She knew that she was a sinner. She knew the sin that she had drawn others into and how it had damaged their lives. She knew she was not worthy of forgiveness, and she grieved for all that she had done.
Who knows how she started on her path of sin? Who knows what horrific abuse, neglect, or abandonment she went through to drive her to her state? The Bible doesn’t tell us about that. The only information provided in this story is her route to freedom.
She put her face at the feet of this Jesus and wept. She lowered her face to the feet of this Man who healed and showed such compassion wherever He went. This man who taught such beautiful, pure truth with such strength and authority. Her tears wet His feet, and she began to wash them with her hair. Her sin had humiliated her, and she brought her humiliation to Christ, seeking His mercy. She kissed the feet of this holy Man and anointed them with her precious vial of perfume.
Imagine the remarkable scene in this room. There sat the powerful Pharisee and others who were considered worthy enough to dine in the company of righteous men, the respectable members of their society. There sat the radical, young preacher who was setting the country on fire. And in comes this woman from among the most broken in their society, fully aware of the wretchedness of her sin, fully certain of the contempt those men held for her. She was either driven by breathtaking bravery or such desperation that none of it mattered.
Do you think the conversation of the men kept going? Do you think it stopped so they could watch this woman in her weeping and humbled state?
The Pharisee who invited Jesus watched it happen and thought, “‘If this Man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, and that she is a sinner.’” For you see, in his mind, no righteous man would let a woman like her get near him, let alone touch him and kiss his feet.
Think about what this meant. If all of the religious leaders refused to minister to women such as her, what hope could she have ever had of redemption? What hope for help or wisdom or support to change? The legalism of the Pharisees was a horrific boundary against the mercy and compassion that could have brought healing and transformation to their people. Jesus would have none of it.
Jesus knew exactly what the Pharisee was thinking, and He wanted to cast a vision of the right way to view the situation. Instead of ridiculing him or showing contempt, Jesus showed Him the beautiful grace of pointing to a higher way. He said:
“‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’”
The Pharisee said, “‘Say it, Teacher.’”
And then the Lord told a story:
“ ‘A certain money lender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii and the other one fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him more?’”
Simon thought about it and said, “‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’” Jesus said:
“‘You have judged correctly.’” Then he turned to look at the weeping woman and 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, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’”
Wow. That is one of the most beautiful things ever written. Read it again! Can you see how Jesus was touched by this woman’s actions? He carefully noted in detail how she was washing His feet with her tears and kissing His feet with earnest devotion.
Notice how powerful the story was for the Pharisee. Jesus didn’t have to defend His point. The story made it obvious. And since the greatest commandment of the Jews was to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, Jesus had just proved that out of all the people in the room, this broken woman was the one who was following the Law most faithfully. In truth, by her actions that day, she was the most righteous of them all. Hers was the greater love.
After Jesus said these things to Simon, He spoke to the woman herself. “‘Your sins have been forgiven.’” Can you imagine that power of these words for this broken woman? Can you imagine her relief, and the freedom she felt after living a life of ever deepening shame and rejection? Can you imagine how she might live a totally different life after receiving the powerful grace of God? What a beautiful thing to witness!
But the rest of the men reclining at the table with the Lord were blind. They missed the glory of the pure goodness happening in front of them. It was a moment for them to repent. It was a moment where they could have seen how wrong their own paths had gone and repent just as the woman had.
Their only impulse was to defend their positions. They reverted to their true God, their theological legalism. “‘Who is this Man who even forgives sins?’” they asked. All the changed lives, the transformations taking place in the sinners of the land, the difference in the tax collectors, the repentance of Roman soldiers, the exquisite humility of the sinful woman…it meant nothing to these men because their hearts were so far from being like the heart of God. And their refusal to share in the mercy and beauty of Christ was dangerous. Their hearts would only become more hard and more unable to love.
But the face of Jesus was no longer turned to them. His eyes were on the one who had humbled herself. His heart was turned to this woman who was grieving her sin so deeply. His words would go to the one who knew her need for a Savior. Can you imagine the gentleness in His voice? He said, “‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”