In my opinion, one of the most beautiful and moving stories in the Bible is the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. Recently, I learned some cultural details of this story that made it come more alive for me, and I’d like to share some of them with you. The story is found in Luke chapter 7, beginning in verse 36 and running through verse 50.
Simon the Pharisee has invited Jesus Christ to dinner. Jesus accepts. When He arrives, He’s given no water with which to wash His feet, and Simon didn’t offer Him a proper greeting.
They sit down to dinner, which in those days meant that they were reclining on the floor around a table with their feet pointed away from the table. Then this woman (who the Bible calls a “sinful woman”) shows up and starts sobbing and sniffling all over Jesus’ feet. She lets down her hair to wipe the tears and dirt from Jesus’ feet, then pours expensive perfume all over Him.
Let me give you the cultural background so the importance of the story is more evident to you:
When you invited a guest for dinner, at the very least, you would provide water for them to wash their own feet as soon as they entered your home. If the guest were an important person, you would assign a servant to wash their feet. If the guest was worthy of high honor, then the host himself would wash the feet of his guest. Simon the Pharisee has invited the Son of God to dine with him, and he doesn’t even provide water for Jesus to wash His own feet. What he should’ve done is wash Jesus’ feet himself!
The kiss of greeting was simply to welcome the guest to your home. Simon doesn’t even offer Jesus a kiss (translation: Jesus isn’t welcome in Simon’s home even though He was invited). Anointing someone’s head was often done to bless them; again Simon fails the etiquette test, and there’ll be no blessing for the Son of God from this Pharisee. Essentially Simon invited Jesus to dinner, then made it quite clear that he has absolutely no respect for Jesus at all–none, not a bit.
When the woman enters and starts behaving in a completely inappropriate manner, the men get restless, and Jesus senses Simon’s thoughts as Simon judges the woman. Then Jesus tells a quick story.
And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ ‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly’ (Luke 7:40-43, NASB).
Jesus is pointing out something important to Simon, and it’s important to us today as well. Many of us think that we’re “good people,” and I’m sure Simon thought this also. What Jesus is saying here is twofold:
- Everyone owes God a debt. Everyone. No one’s excluded. It may seem like some people owe a bigger debt than others, but the size of the debt isn’t the point. The point is that no matter what, everyone owes.
- The second point is that people who take an honest look at their sin (no matter how big or small it may seem) will recognize how much they’ve been forgiven and how little they deserved that forgiveness. These people have a greater love for the one who forgave them.
I recently heard a pastor at a youth event say, “There are no ‘good people’ and ‘bad people.’ There are just bad people and Jesus.” That’s the central point of the story Jesus told Simon that night. Simon, a sinner, showed Jesus no honor. The woman, a sinner, showed Jesus great honor.
We don’t know who the woman was or what her “sin” was. What we do know is that she gave everything she had, which wasn’t much, to honor Jesus because she took an honest look at her sin. Do we do the same?
We’re all sinners. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sinned once or one thousand times, you’ve still sinned; you and I have offended the God of all creation. We don’t deserve forgiveness, but He gives it anyway. Do we honor Him as we should?
You might not have much, but are you honoring Jesus with what you have?
For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47).
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