“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47 ESV
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:36-38 NIV
The woman – we do not know her name – was a prostitute. The ISV states that she was a ‘notorious sinner’, and this suggests something about the level of her depravity. She might have been the sex worker whose promiscuity shocked other sex workers
A woman of such notoriety had no place in a civilised society. Like the Samaritan woman, she had to go in the hot afternoon hour to draw water from the local well, to avoid the unwelcome stares of the other women. On her way to the market, she would veil her face from gaze of sellers and buyers. People invariably reacted to her presence. A curious child, who wandered too close, would be quickly pulled away by its mother. Her nightly customers averted their eyes and looked straight ahead with righteous disapproval on their faces.
She was rarely seen in the streets until dusk when ‘she set up stall’ and began her business. Her bread basket had to be filled, and something had to be put away for the days when she fell ill. She also had to plan for the years ahead, when age finally caught up, and her beauty was gone. This practical outlook made her continue through days when pangs of shame made her want to give up this ‘business’ altogether. For who would give her any other work? To whom could she go? Not to her own family, if she had any, for they probably wanted nothing to do with her.
So she saved up carefully – and it was in a rare moment of utter madness that she spent a whole month’s wages to buy the curious alabaster box of expensive perfume sold by a foreign merchant. Hidden away in a corner and covered with scarves, this box was her most priced possession. At times, when social ostracism and humiliation became more than she could bear, thinking of the special box made her feel better. She would uncover the scarves, look at its quiet glow and feel it coolness against her cheeks. The beautiful box belonged to her and her alone.
It is hard to know what made her choose her sinful lifestyle. Perhaps she had been orphaned early and left to fend for herself. Or perhaps, as a teenager, she had made bad choices which led her down this ruinous road. Anyway, in the society of her time, her life was irredeemable. Then she had heard of Jesus.
The Bible gives us a clue about how her path crossed Jesus’. He is described as a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He was as much at home with them, as He was with Simon, the righteous Pharisee who had invited Him to dinner, and now sat scornfully in judgment. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:37 NIV)
The words of Jesus gave her hope – she was no longer alone, she now had a Friend. Her future could be redeemed, for He had come to give her new life, and to change her from inside out. His promise of eternal life, and His words of authority were seeds that took root in her spirit, and gave her the strength to walk away from her past. The chains that tied her to her old sins were broken, and peace finally entered her soul.
The new sense of freedom gave her the courage to go uninvited to a Pharisee’s home with a gift for Jesus. She probably stood at the edge of the crowd for a while, hesitant to go further. Yet, on seeing the Lord, reclining on his couch, she was overcome with emotion and all inhibitions vanished. Her whole life of sorrow and shame came back vividly to her mind, as well as the moment, when she heard the offer of life and hope from the lips of the Messiah. Amid shocked glances, she walked up to Him, weeping. As tears ran freely down her cheeks, wetting His feet, she knelt by His side. She wiped those feet with her hair, kissed them, and then broke her alabaster box to pour perfume over Him. The ministrations which according to custom, Simon owed his Guest, and thought nothing of neglecting, were being performed by this sinful woman with tenderness, flair and love.
Jesus noted the difference. The woman understood the true nature of sin – how it could take root and ravage one’s soul – and therefore valued the gift of forgiveness that He offered. The Pharisee believing himself to be righteous, saw no need for a soul Physician. The Lord was for him an object of curiosity. How he had come to meet Jesus is not known, but in Matthew’s gospel he is called Simon the leper. He was in all likelihood, among those miraculously healed by Jesus. But the healing remained skin deep for his soul was untouched. He had received the touch of Jesus with condescension – perhaps, as something he rightfully deserved, or as something that cost Jesus nothing to bestow. His story should be warning to us, as we realise that not all who benefit from a miracle, will necessarily follow Christ and find redemption for their souls.
Blind to his own need, he rejected the true righteousness from God, which the woman hungrily, and greedily sought. She wanted nothing more than to be near Jesus for a brief moment, and to offer Him the only thing of value in her life. Even Jesus’ disciples had scorned the waste of such a gift. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me.” Matthew 26:10 ESV.
In lavishly pouring out her gift, she became a receptacle for the grace and righteousness, which He freely pours out. “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50 ESV).
As the fragrance of her perfume filled the rooms and corridors of that stately home, sin broke its hold over her life. A new inner strength and tranquility filled her soul, as the Lord commended her great love, which He promised would never be forgotten. The story of our Lord’s sojourn on this earth is incomplete without a recounting of the story of the sinful woman.
“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13 ESV)
Father, may we, like this woman, learn to love You much. Help us never to take lightly the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Let us never forget the great danger from which our Lord delivered us and help us to grow more thankful each day. In Jesus’ name.