Love, Grace, and Forgiveness – A Sinful Woman Forgiven
The meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house is the second meal type-scene to reflect upon.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and when he went into the Pharisee’s house he reclined to dine. And a woman in the city who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair, kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Lk 7, 36-50
Luke 7, 36-50 is a powerful and profound passage that recounts an intimate and moving encounter between Jesus and a sinful woman. This narrative holds multiple layers of meaning and offers timeless lessons about forgiveness, love, and grace.
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him. While at the table, a woman known for her sinful lifestyle approached Jesus, carrying an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. Overcome with emotion, she began to weep, bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with the perfume.
The Pharisee, Simon, judged both the woman and Jesus in his heart, thinking that if Jesus were truly a prophet, he would know about the woman’s sinful nature. In response, Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness, illustrating that the one who is forgiven much, loves much. It shows that God is not waiting for us to pay for our sins in some form or another, but will forgive us if we truly open our heart for Him. The same happens when Jesus meets Levi at the tax collection table. Jesus did not ask Levi to re-pay some sum of money and then follow Him, but just asked him to follow Him.
The following are some points for reflection about the woman’s actions:
- Tears and washing Jesus’ feet: The woman’s tears symbolize deep emotional repentance and sorrow for her past actions. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair goes beyond social norms of hospitality; it reflects her humility, contrition, and deep reverence for Jesus. In the cultural context of that time, letting down one’s hair was an act reserved for intimate settings, signifying her vulnerability and total submission.
- Anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume: The anointing with expensive perfume denotes an act of honoring or consecrating someone, usually done for kings or priests. In this case, it’s a gesture of deep reverence, acknowledging Jesus’ importance and expressing her love and submission to him. The costly perfume symbolizes her willingness to give her best, signifying her understanding of Jesus’ worth and her desire to offer everything she values as an expression of devotion. See this in contrast to the host who did not wash Jesus’ feet.
- Receiving forgiveness and peace: Jesus acknowledges her actions and emphasizes the woman’s faith, assuring her of forgiveness and granting her peace. Her act of repentance, love, and faith results in the freedom from guilt and the assurance of God’s forgiveness. This act signifies the spiritual transformation that occurs when one approaches Jesus with genuine repentance and faith, receiving the gift of forgiveness and the peace that surpasses understanding.
Simon, the Pharisee and host in the story, offers an intriguing contrast to the actions and reactions of the woman. His inner thoughts and dialogue with himself regarding the woman and Jesus provide insight into human judgment, self-righteousness, and lack of understanding the true nature of forgiveness and grace.
- Judgment and Self-Righteousness: Simon’s inner monologue reflects a judgmental attitude. He questions Jesus’ identity as a prophet because, in his perception, a true prophet would not allow a sinful woman to touch him. This reflects Simon’s self-righteousness and his belief in maintaining social and religious norms. He sees the woman’s actions through the lens of her reputation and fails to see beyond her sin, allowing prejudice to cloud his understanding.
- Failure to Recognize Personal Need for Forgiveness: Simon doesn’t acknowledge his own need for forgiveness. He perceives himself as righteous, unlike the woman, and therefore fails to recognize his own sins or the need for forgiveness and grace. This lack of self-awareness prevents him from fully understanding the depth of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
- Lack of Love and Hospitality: Despite being the host, Simon fails to show the customary hospitality towards Jesus. He doesn’t offer water to wash Jesus’ feet, a customary gesture of hospitality in that culture, highlighting his lack of love and respect for Jesus as a guest.
Simon’s inner monologue teaches us:
- Self-Examination and Humility: Simon’s inner thoughts serve as a cautionary example, reminding us of the dangers of self-righteousness and the importance of self-examination. It prompts us to reflect on our own attitudes and behaviors towards others, urging us to embrace humility and avoid passing judgment based on appearances or past actions.
- Recognizing Our Need for Grace: Simon’s failure to recognize his own need for forgiveness teaches us the importance of acknowledging our own shortcomings and the necessity of God’s grace. It’s a reminder that self-righteousness can blind us to our own need for redemption and forgiveness.
- Hospitality and Love: Simon’s lack of hospitality towards Jesus contrasts sharply with the woman’s extravagant display of love and hospitality. It encourages us to examine our own attitudes and actions, reminding us to show genuine love, respect, and hospitality to others, regardless of their background or perceived status.
This passage reminds us that no one is beyond redemption. Forgiveness is available to all who seek it and accept it with open heart. It emphasizes the importance of approaching God with humility, acknowledging our shortcomings, and seeking His forgiveness and love. It also challenges us to reflect on our own attitudes toward forgiveness, grace, and judgment towards others.
Gracious and Loving Father,
As we come before You, we humbly acknowledge our need for Your forgiveness and grace. Help us, O Lord, to recognize the moments when we exhibit attitudes of judgment, self-righteousness, or a lack of love and understanding towards others.
Grant us the wisdom to see beyond appearances and past mistakes, just as You looked beyond the surface and into the heart of the repentant woman in the house of Simon. Help us to embrace humility, to examine our own hearts, and to extend grace to others as You have graciously extended to us.
Forgive us for the times when we’ve been blind to our own need for Your mercy and forgiveness, thinking ourselves righteous. May we learn from Simon’s shortcomings and strive for a deeper understanding of Your boundless love and forgiveness.
Teach us to express love and hospitality, to show kindness and understanding without prejudice, just as the woman poured out her love and devotion to You, Jesus, despite her past.
Guide us to walk in the path of humility, love, and grace, mirroring Your unconditional love to everyone we encounter.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.