November 22, 2020

Jesus and the Sinful Woman

The story of Jesus with the sinful woman found in Luke 7 teaches us a powerful lesson in love and service. As Jesus dined at the home of Simon the Pharisee, a woman entered uninvited and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and anointed his feet with fragrant oil. After Simon criticized Jesus for allowing her to do so, the Savior taught him and all of us of the importance of accepting others. 

Anciently, to invite a guest into one’s home was seen as a great gesture of friendship and even a way to make a covenant with another. Breaking bread together was often used as a sign or a token to show that two enemies once at war were now at peace. Welcoming one into the home served as a symbol that the guest was a trusted individual. 

Once a guest arrived, a host would do a series of acts in order for their visitor to feel welcomed and comfortable. It was common for a guest to be greeted with a kiss by the host, similar to shaking hands today. Because the roads were dusty and most wore sandals, feet were washed as a sign of generosity as this would have been the dirtiest part of the body. Lying sideways on cushions around the table, the feet would be extended making it easy for servants or a slave to perform the lowly task. 

Another common act of hospitality would be the anointing with oil. Ancient people did not bathe frequently and often worked long hours in the sun. Consequently, guests would appreciate when a host poured sweet-smelling fragrant oil on their parched, dry skin. While just a drop is used today for many religious services, a generous amount would have been poured on the head. As oils were expensive, particularly when enhanced with spices, flowers, and other fragrances, such an act would be considered a generous gift by the host.

Jesus anointed by a sinful woman by Jan van 't Hoff

With this context in mind, let’s now consider the events that occurred in Luke Chapter 7. Simon, a Pharisee, was a man of prominence and most likely invited Jesus into his home due to the Savior’s reputation and popularity. Despite his status, Simon does not provide any of the common acts of hospitality. However, an uninvited woman with a reputation for being sinful, does offer true generosity. She must have heard that Jesus was in the home and came seeking the Savior. She makes her way into Simon’s home uninvited. Uncovering her hair, she kneels at the feet of Jesus. With all the guests looking on most likely with shock, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. Now clean from the dust of the road, his feet are then dried with her hair. One can only imagine the tense feeling in the room. Next, she anointed his feet with the precious oil that she has brought in an alabaster flask or jar. 

This woman’s washing of Jesus’ feet does not go unnoticed by Simon. Anciently, unlike today, men normally would not touch women they were not related to fearing it could potentially make them ritually unclean. Because of this, Simon criticizes Jesus for allowing himself to be touched by this woman, one whom this Pharisee calls a sinner.

Jesus responds to this criticism with a parable of two debtors. One debtor owed 500 pence or what a common laborer made in about 8 years. The second owed 50 pence or about 10 months of wages. Jesus then says that both debts were frankly forgiven by the creditor. [1] He asks Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:42 NIV

The pharisee answers by selecting the one who owed ten times as much. Jesus confirms that Simon has judged correctly. He then points out that Simon has made little effort to show hospitality, yet this woman has shown the Lord an abundance of love and generosity. 

The Master then turns to the woman and offers her a gift of far greater value than the precious oil she has used to anoint his feet. Jesus tells her, “Your sins are forgiven...Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50 NIV).

Christ and the sinner by Andrei Mironov

The Savior teaches us here that he is willing to forgive everyone, even those who others may not be willing to accept or forgive. All have a path towards redemption. As a woman of poor reputation in her community, she was willing to risk the possibility of being ridiculed by seeking diligently for the Savior. She did this to show her great love and devotion for the Lord. This woman is an example of faith to all of us. As we seek the Savior, we should not fear what others may think of us. What only matters is what the Lord thinks of us. It is remarkable that Christ never calls her the sinful woman. Instead, he sees her for her true character and gives her a much more appropriate description, he says, “for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

As we think of this beautiful story, do we ever find ourselves treating others how Simon treated Jesus and the woman—with a lack of hospitality, patience, or acceptance? Will we graciously welcome the Savior as a guest into our home? Can we make space for those who want to be with the Lord and seek him out? Or do we choose to socialize only with those who look or think like us. The Savior clearly teaches us that we must love and be accepting of everyone, including those of different beliefs or ideas. We all are children of our loving Heavenly Father, and like this faithful woman, we all have a seat at the Lord’s table.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

[1] Halverson, T. Was the Denarius a Daily Wage? A Note on the Parable of the Two Debtors in Luke 7:40–43. Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 36 (2020): 139-144

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