By Donnie V. Rader
Luke 7:36-50 records the story of a sinful woman washing the feet of Jesus. This story is divided into four sections. (1) Vv. 36-39 As Jesus ate at the house of a Pharisee named Simon, a woman, who was noted as “a sinner” came in and stood at the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with her tears and drying his feet with her hair. The Pharisee concludes that Jesus could not be a prophet for if he were he would know that this was a sinful woman and not have anything to do with her. (2) Vv. 40-43 Jesus gives a parable of two debtors showing that the one who is forgiven most is the one that loves more. (3) Vv. 44-47 Jesus then proceeds to contrast the Pharisee and the woman. Everything that the Pharisee had not done for Jesus, this woman had done. She washed his feet, kissed him and anointed him with oil. (4) Vv. 48-50 Jesus forgives the sinful woman.
This is not to be con-fused with the anointing at Bethany recorded in Mat-thew 26. In our text, the man is Simon the Pharisee, at Bethany it was Simon the Leper. Simon was a common name in Palestine. The New Testament mentions nine men with this name. Josephus mentions twenty. There could have been hundreds, perhaps thousands by that name in Palestine. Thus, the fact that the name Simon is found in both stories does not mean they are the same. In our text, the woman is a sinful woman, at Bethany it was Mary the sister of Lazarus, a godly woman.
A few reminders about the customs of the day will help us better understand this story. When a rabbi was at a meal, anyone could freely come. That explains why the sinful woman would be in the house of the Pharisee without an invitation. The host would normally greet the guest with a kiss, have his feet washed and at times anoint his head with oil. To fail in this would be considered rude.
In the east the guest did not sit with his feet under the table as we do, but would recline on low couches and rest on his left elbow with his feet stretched back behind him.
This is how the woman could be standing at his feet and washing his feet with her tears.
While all are sinners, some as a class were labeled as “sinners” or outcasts of society. Some think this woman may have been a harlot.
Let’s consider some practical lessons we learn from this story.
Recognition Of One’s Need
The woman recognized that she was in sin and needed the Lord. In fact, she seemed to be conscious of nothing else. This is evident in that she came to Jesus, she was weeping, she was considered an outcast and she received forgiveness.
With the Pharisee it seems that his need never crossed his mind. When he does think about sin, it is not his own but the woman’s sin (v. 39).
The one who realizes how terrible his spiritual condition is will be the one who will have the most appreciation for forgiveness since he has nothing with which to pay (vv. 42-43). Some second and third generation Christians may lose sight of their real need for the Lord. Being “raised in the church” they may not appreciate how low sin had taken them.
Relation Of Real Need And Love
The woman, because she sees her own need, shows love and compassion (vv. 38, 47). The Pharisee, not seeing his needs, doesn’t show love toward Jesus or the woman.
When we realize our own need for the Lord and the depths from which we have been lifted, we will be stirred to love and care for others (1 John 3:16; 4:9-11).
How Jesus Was Treated
Simon did not treat Jesus with the common courtesies that should be show to any guest (vv. 44-46). These would be a part of basic kindness and decency. Yet, the sinful woman was not only courteous, but went beyond that. She not only washed his feet, but washed them with her tears and hair. She not only kissed him, but kissed his feet. She not only anointed him with oil, but she anointed his feet with oil.
What do we learn from this? I learn that when we are mistreated, overlooked or ignored, we need to remember that Jesus was treated that way too. I learn that sometimes those who will treat you the worst are those who claim to be righteous (are really self-righteous). I learn that when someone doesn’t show common courtesy the real problem is a lack of love.
The Respectable Sinner
Both the Pharisee and the woman were sinners. She had openly sinned. She was condemned by the public. Again, some think she was a harlot. But the Pharisee was “respect-able.” He was not condemned by all. He was not an outcast. His sins, which included mistreating Jesus, being self-righteous, and rejecting Jesus were not considered as evil as other sins. He was not aware just how awful his behavior was.
There are a lot of “respectable” sinners today. (1) There are good moral people who are religiously wrong (Matt. 7:21f).(2) Some Christians have a “holier-than-thou” attitude. (3) There are those who oppose some part of God’splan (i.e., elders, marriage, purity of character, etc.). (4) There are a number of weak Christians who never grow and mature (Heb. 5:12). (5) There will always be those who sow discord and strife (Rom. 16:17). (6) Some Christians have an inactive faith (Jas. 2). All of the above are sinners, but not always viewed as sinners. Thus, we call them “respectable sinners.”
The Worst Of Sinners Can Be Forgiven
The woman of our text had many sins, but she was forgiven (vv. 47-50). If God would forgive her, he will forgive others who have many sins. God is willing to forgive the worst of sinners like Saul of Tarsus (1 Tim. 1:15). Jesus invites those who are heavy laden with sins to come to him (Matt. 11:28). The Corinthians were guilty of all kinds of immoral deeds, yet they were justified (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The Courage Of Those Who Love God
It took courage for this woman to profess her faith and love in Simon’s house. Simon and the Pharisees hated this woman. She could have been scorned, maybe even expelled. Yet, she was so courageous that she did the honors of the house. Those who love God will develop couarge. They will cast off fear (2 Tim. 2:7), put on determination (Phil. 4:13) and will not be ashamed (1 Pet. 4:16; Rom. 1:16). They will gladly let others know that they love the Lord. G
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 24, p. 14-15
December 15, 1994