‘Christianity’s emphasis on believing in Jesus is too exclusive. It shouldn’t be what people believe but how they live that matters.’
How much do you agree with this assessment and why?
Jesus’ choice of friends scandalised the religious and cultural elite of his day. For spending time with ‘the tax collectors and sinners’, some accused him of being a drunk himself (Luke 7:34). This, combined with Jesus’ openly critical stance towards the conservative religious establishment, meant that the Pharisees and others were increasingly hostile towards Jesus and his followers.
This account opens with Jesus being invited as a guest for dinner in the home of a wealthy Pharisee named Simon. In those days a dinner involving a notable guest could be fairly public, taking place in a courtyard where outsiders could stand around to observe the meal and listen in on the discussion. The gathering would be an all-male affair and the invited guests would recline on couches with their heads pointing inwards towards a central table.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 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. 38 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.
What reasons might Simon have had for inviting Jesus to dinner with his friends?
The conversation at dinner is interrupted as a woman known locally for being ‘sinful’ – probably a prostitute – walks uninvited over to where Jesus is reclining and, while standing over him, begins to weep.
List each of the woman’s actions that Luke carefully describes.
What does the woman’s behaviour reveal about her emotions towards Jesus?
Small alabaster jars preserved expensive perfume and wealthy women often wore them around their necks as a beauty accessory. Pouring out the perfume meant breaking the bottle. For this woman that meant sacrificing a vital tool of her trade.
As well as the considerable financial sacrifice, what else would her actions have cost the woman?
What impression do you think this display of devotion would have made on the other guests present?
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, 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.’
40 Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’
‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.
41 ‘Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’
43 Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’
‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.
44 Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’
48 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’
50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Simon is clearly very uncomfortable with the woman’s behaviour but focuses his disapproval on Jesus. Why do you think this is?
How does Jesus’ acceptance of this woman’s devotion undermine his credibility in Simon’s mind?
It seems that Simon’s doubts about Jesus’ insightfulness were unfounded, as Jesus responds directly to what Simon was thinking! Jesus tells a short story of two debtors, one owing the equivalent of two years’ wages, another about two months’ wages, but neither with the ability to pay back what they owe. Remarkably, the moneylender cancels the debts of both.
How does Jesus interpret the woman’s extravagant display of devotion towards him? What do you think has happened in this woman’s life to cause her to respond as she does?
What does it say about Jesus that he accepts her devotion without any sign of discomfort or embarrassment? What would it have cost Jesus to do this?
While speaking to Simon, Jesus turns towards the woman (verse 44). What does Jesus want Simon to understand about this woman in contrast to himself?
Having spoken to Simon, Jesus addresses the woman directly. He tells her that her faith has saved her. How has the woman expressed faith in this account? Who has she put her faith in?
The other guests are astonished by what Jesus says to the woman and ask: ‘Who is this?’ Why do you think they are left questioning Jesus’ identity in response to what’s happened?
We tend to think that the most tolerant and inclusive approach to God is to say ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you live a good life’. Jesus in this story seems to say the exact opposite: ‘It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived a bad life – what matters is that you put your faith in me.’
At the heart of Jesus’ message is the claim that through trusting him we can experience God’s forgiveness and salvation – no matter who we are or what we’ve done. It was discovering this that caused the sinful woman to overflow with love. It was Simon’s failure to see his need for forgiveness that meant he was cold towards Jesus and condemning towards the woman.
Jesus teaches that God knows the worst there is about us and yet freely extends welcome and forgiveness to us at great cost to himself. How might discovering this about God make someone a more loving and inclusive person?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.