Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 67 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode we looked at two events from Luke’s Gospel that are part of Jesus’ Middle Galilean ministry - the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant and the raising of the widow’s son in Nain. We saw how Jesus showed deep compassion not only for a Jewish mother and her son, but for a Gentile centurion and his servant. One of the big things we talked about was how amazed Jesus was at the centurion’s faith, declaring how He had not even seen that kind of faith from any Jewish person. Jesus’ statement would have been offensive to the Jews, because the Gentiles were not the ones God had made covenants with and had no reason to be trusting of Jesus and His claims. So this incident once again exposed the hardness of the Jewish heart and showed that Jesus had indeed come to divide Israel and reckon with them.
In our episode today, we’ll continue looking into Jesus’ Middle Galilean Ministry, moving forward through a couple more events in Luke’s Gospel. Let’s read today from Luke 7 where we see the story of a sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet:
"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”"
(Luke 7:36–39 ESV)
Well, the last named place that Luke’s Gospel gives us is Nain, but I don’t think we can be totally certain that this scene happened there. We’ll see just a few verses later in Luke 8 that Jesus is on a circuit through Galilee with the twelve and with a group of women who privately provided for Him in His travels, so this could have happened in another city along the journey. We’re just not sure. Now some people think that the woman in this scene was Mary Magdalene, but to me that seems unlikely. Luke doesn’t name this woman, and then just a few verses later he actually mentions Mary Magdalene. So if this particular woman was her, why would Luke not say that outright?
So Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and Luke says that Jesus was reclining at the table. We’re more used to sitting down in a chair at the dinner table, but reclining on a pillow at a low table on your left elbow was actually the standard way someone would eat a meal in Jesus’ day. And this is actually an important detail that helps us understand how this scene plays out, because Jesus’ legs and feet would have been extending outward from the table. I’ll talk about that more in a second. Luke says that this woman bursts into the house when she hears that Jesus is there. She clearly has a reputation of being a sinner among the city residents, and that is what makes this scene even more counter cultural than the awkwardness we can see just by reading it. How odd and disruptive must this have been? What did the woman see in Jesus or what did she know about Him that caused her to embarrass herself and many others at the dinner party? Even if she was a righteous, pious woman, she would have never come bursting into the house like she did, and certainly would not have wept all over Jesus’ dirty feet, wiped them with her hair, and then anointed them with the ointment she had brought in. Now remember, Jesus is reclining on his left elbow, with his head towards the table. The woman comes in and runs up to Jesus’ feet, which are extending outward on the floor from the table. It wasn’t like the woman crawled under a the table to get to Jesus’ feet, which I’m guessing is a common way we might picture this scene.
Now we aren’t told anything about this woman and her story other than the fact that she was a sinner. We don’t even know how she had heard about Jesus or if she had any previous interaction with Him. But what sort of boldness did she have to come inside of the house of a noble Pharisee and do what she did? This whole scene is scandalous on so many levels, and Simon the Pharisee is just in utter shock as to who just came into his house. Let’s keep reading in Luke 7:
"And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then 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 from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment."
(Luke 7:40–46 ESV)
Jesus goes on to reprove Simon for his lack of tenderness towards Him. Simon was so blessed to have Jesus there, but He was so disconnected from who He really was. Yet this woman who had no business being there was such an indictment against Simon and all the Pharisees. Jesus makes everyone at the table look at her, and I’m sure it causes them to be freaked out even more. Remember, these are Pharisees who are so concerned with ritual purity and adherence to their man-made traditions. Just by having this sinner in the house would have defiled them. But Jesus says “look at her, look at what she knows about me, you are so disconnected from what she knows!” Surely this was a moment that Simon and his guests were not expecting.
Now if the sinful woman in the house isn’t enough to make the Pharisees very angry because they were now supposedly ritually unclean, Jesus stirs up the pot once again. Luke goes on:
"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at 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.”"
(Luke 7:47–50 ESV)
Look at this. Jesus says something unthinkable in front of the Pharisees. He says that this woman's sins are forgiven her. Remember back in Episode 58 when we looked at the healing of the leper? They had lowered him through the roof in the midst of Jesus, and he not only healed him but said that his sins had been forgiven him. Back in that scene we saw the Pharisees freaking out just like we see in this one with the sinful woman. There they said “only God alone can forgive sins”, and so here too the Pharisees knew full well that the only one who had authority to forgive sins was God Himself. So just like with the leper, Jesus is provoking the Pharisees and indicting them again for their unbelief by asserting His divinity before them. Jesus is the one true living God, the God of Israel, the one the Jews worshipped. And because of their hardness of heart, they refuse to believe who He really is.
Now before I move on to the next scene in Luke, I want to say that this scene here is NOT the same event that we see in John 12 with Mary of Bethany. There is some outward resemblance, but the context of both scenes is so radically different that they can’t be harmonized. And both chronologically and geographically, they are in completely different places. So don’t confuse this sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house up in Galilee with Mary of Bethany in Judea just before Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem. Does that make sense?
Well, here’s a few points for your meditation this week:
1) Imagine you were someone in Simon’s house that evening - whether it be another Pharisee, a servant, or just someone as part of the family. How awkward would it have been after the sinful woman got up and left? What would the talk have been like after the meal was over and everyone had left?
2) Put yourself in the shoes of the sinful woman after she had left the house. What did she do? What was she thinking? What joy did she have? How was she perceived in the city the days and weeks following this act of extravagance?
This scene from Jesus’ life is just so precious. Don’t skip by it too quickly. We all are sinners and certainly can relate to this woman’s story in some way. How does repentance move Jesus’ heart? Oh, let us be ones who run to Jesus and trust in His kindness just like this woman did, knowing that no sin is too shameful for Him. I pray that the Lord would give you and I the boldness to run to Him and pour our love upon Him just like this woman did, even in the midst of feeling the weight of our own sin and brokenness. Well, in the next episode I’ll look at another scene from Jesus’ Middle Galilean ministry from Luke 8 and its parallel in Mark 3. If you’ve missed any of the episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless you, and I’ll see you next time.