Who is worthy of salvation? I was talking to a group of young people in a correction facility. I wanted to emphasize the concept of forgiveness. You see, we were dealing with the parable of the Prodigal Son and I was attempting to explain the brother’s reaction. His younger brother was not worthy of forgiveness, of being accepted back to the family. His rebellious traipsing off to the far country and wasting the money that should have been used for the family estate was too much. I told them about Jeffery Dahmer and how he was baptized. One of the young men blurted out “Serial killers don’t deserve salvation!” I don’t know what this young man was locked up for, but can you feel the irony? Where do you draw the line? Your mistakes are surely not as bad as multiple murders and various other nefarious deeds. But for someone else, the mistakes you have stumbled over, may be their line. Do you deserve salvation?
Luke 7:36-39 is the setting scene. Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee, whom we later discover is named Simon. Because Simon’s outrageous lack of hospitality, some have suggested that he invited Jesus purposefully to ridicule him. We don’t know, but there is an obvious lack of respect here. Picture Jesus entering the house and noticing that the usual amenities of water for washing feet are nowhere to be seen. He could have made a fuss. This was a pretty serious oversight, or, even an intentional disrespect. Jesus could have walked out in a huff. He would have been within his rights. Instead, he apparently just quietly reclines at table. Was he denying Simon the satisfaction of a wounded response?
And behold, there was a woman! The word “behold” which is suspiciously absent from my translation, calls attention to something unexpected or new. You can be sure that this woman was not on the guest list. Since they were reclining, this was considered a formal meal. But even a formal meal may have people who just wander in off the street. They were not nearly as private as we are in observing meals. It was common to have people come in and visit with the host and the guests. But this woman must have known that she would not be welcome in the house of Simon. And suddenly, there she is! This sinner in the city. This phrase most likely means she was a well-known sinner in the city and she may very well have been a prostitute. That would fit the story. She is there because she had discovered that Jesus was there. It was most likely the talk of the city.
She stands behind Jesus at his feet and begins to weep. This word can refer to a wailing. Much time has been spent trying to determine the source of her tears. Did she weep because of her reputation in the city? Did she weep tears of joy having heard words of grace and forgiveness? Maybe it was a mixture of these two. Some will suggest at this point that her weeping has to do with how poorly Jesus is being treated and that the wiping of and anointing of his feet were an attempt to rectify this abysmal treatment; to honor in the face of disgrace. Later, Jesus will ascribe this meaning to her actions, but it doesn’t seem likely that she came prepared with anointing oil to rectify what she could have no way of knowing would happen. She came prepared with perfume. The weeping and the wiping of his feet was most likely a serendipitous act that Jesus was able to teach a lesson with (more on that next time).
She stands behind him and prepares to anoint his feet because to try to anoint his head (which in Jewish custom would be the normal thing to do) would be too intrusive. So, as she stoops over to anoint his feet, she is overwhelmed with emotion. Her tears fall on his feet. She has nothing to wipe them dry, so she lets down her hair, which was a societal taboo, and dries them as best she can. In this moment she is again overwhelmed and she begins to kiss his feet. Then she does what she came to do and she anoints him. Jesus respectfully remains passive through all of this. There is a lesson here, isn’t there. Sometimes we need to passively let people express themselves. And Simon denounces Jesus. There is no way that “this one” (which can be a term of dismissal) can be a prophet. Not if he lets such a woman touch him. Simon fully expects that a prophet of God would be just like himself – a safe distance from all unclean sinners.
Isn’t it sad that Simon didn’t say, “Wow, God can forgive sinners! There is hope for me after all.”? I want to be more like the woman. I want to respond to the Savior with tears of grief and joy; of mourning and dancing. I want to be so overwhelmed with emotion that convention takes a back seat to honoring my Lord. I want to be more concerned about God’s honor than my own. Honor the Savior! Peace, Walter