A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Observations and Reflections
It is often thought that Jesus was looked down upon by all the pharisees. However, a number of them considered Jesus to be of a high status. One such pharisee is Simon who responded to Jesus’ request to speak with the phrase, “Say it, Teacher.” However, the rest of the pharisees at the table were indignant at Jesus forgiving the sins of the sinful woman. This is now the second time this has happened in Luke’s gospel.
The careful reader will also notice that this passage seems to appear a bit early in Luke’s gospel. In fact, both Mark, Matthew, and John have this story near the end of the gospel and the cast of characters are much different.
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
This particular passage seems to disagree with Luke’s account. So much so that many people have suggested that these are two separate events. But interestingly, the person Jesus addresses is named Simon and in the non-lucan accounts Jesus is at the house of a man also named Simon. Is Luke’s version faulty or just a different account? Most scholars suggest that this story about Jesus was likely very popular but not just one version existed. We have already established that Luke has used multiple sources other than Mark, such as Q, so it seems logical to conclude that Luke had a source that was not available to the other gospel writers or that Luke recalled this version of the story as being the correct one. It is hard to know exactly. However, in all of the accounts, Jesus protects this vulnerable woman from the scrutiny of the on-lookers.
As for the location of this story in Luke’s gospel, it seems likely that Luke included it here because it fits in with the narrative Luke is trying to paint about Jesus being sent to the sinners, not the saints. Also, Luke tends to break chronology in his gospel a bit.
Forgiveness is a major characteristic of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ was always quick to forgive those who came to Him with an open and repentant heart. In this passage, we see how Jesus Christ compares two types of people. Both are sinners and yet the who has sinned greater, is the one who has the courage and humility to seek out God’s forgiveness. The one whose sin is not as extreme, is blinded by the fact that despite the fact that their sin is not as “extreme”, they too are also sinners and are in need of forgiveness.
Jesus graciously points out that even though this woman had committed many sins, everyone is in the same position of needing to have a heart of repentance and forgiveness. The main ingredient that leads us to that point is having a love for Christ. Verse 47 emphasizes that very point “her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much”. Jesus is pointing out that her heart is able to comprehend more about the love of Jesus Christ then the person who is “forgiven little”.
Whether you have sinned a great amount or small amount, the end result is still the same: all sinners are in need of God’s Grace and forgiveness. We are all required to have a heart that is ready to repent and with humility confess that even though our sins are many, His Grace is able to cover all of it.
[Featured image titled “Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee“ by Rubens, c. 1618.]