Wounded Daughters of Jesus
THE WOMAN IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON THE PHARISEE
Intro: Before the narrative opens, it is presumed that the woman had already heard Jesus proclaim His message of grace for sinners. The entire account makes no sense without this presumption. One scholar wrote, “There is no doubt that the woman previously heard the preaching of the Christ and was deeply moved by it and believed and repented and was anticipating a chance to make visible her thanks to the Christ, and to confirm forgiveness for her sins and the salvation of herself.”
We know that Jesus had been declaring His message that God loves sinners. The Pharisees did not agree, because in their view God cared for the righteous who kept the law.
Jesus, a young rabbi, was just getting started, and they could yet correct and mold Him, or so they assumed. As a group, his elders could come together and offer the badly needed advice. Also, Jesus had already proclaimed that He was a prophet (Luke 4:24). This possibility needed to be investigated, so a meal was planned, and Jesus was invited. Indeed, He was the “guest of honor.”
Luke 7:36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat.
Luke 7:37a And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner,
The whole scene is filled with tension introduced by what did not happen but should have.
As Jesus entered the house, all the traditional courtesies of hospitality were omitted.
Custom required a kiss of greeting, water and olive oil for washing hands/feet. Only then could the traditional prayer of thanksgiving be offered. After the prayer, the meal could begin.
Babylonian Talmud – “Our rabbis taught: the absence of oil is a bar to the saying of grace…” and “Just as a dirty person is unfit for the Temple service, so dirty hands are unfit for saying grace.”
But what is happening in Simon’s house? Every culture has rituals for welcoming guests. We do them without thinking, yet they are very important.
Bypassing them communicates many things.
illus: In various modern nations, traditional courtesies for welcoming a guest go something like this – 1. Hello Larry, it’s nice to see you. 2. Wouldn’t you like to come in? 3. May I take your coat? 4. Please sit and rest here. 5. May I bring you something to drink? 6. The host then turns off the TV or closes the laptop or sets his phone to silent – a sure sign that the guest is welcome, and that the host has plenty of time to see him/her. The guest has the host’s undivided attention.
To omit the entire list would be a calculated, direct insult.
Do you remember what Abraham did when three famous visitors arrived at his home unannounced?
Gen 18:2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground
Abraham acted with appropriate traditional hospitality, offering water for the feet and food for refreshment.
Gen 18:4 Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
Gen 18:5 And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts.
Bowing before his guests, Abraham provided a generous meal and stood by like a servant on duty while they ate.
Gen 18:8 So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
Hosting a rabbi was considered a great honor according to the historic literature.
The text reads, “If one partakes of a meal at which a scholar is present, it is as if he feasted on the radiance of the Divine Presence.”
When Simon addressed Jesus as “Teacher,” he was acknowledging that his guest was a scholar.
Therefore, special courtesies were expected, not pointed insults.
The minimum Jesus could expect would have a been (1) a kiss of greeting, (2) a little water for his feet, and (3) some olive oil with which to wash and condition his skin.
Olive oil was available in every home. Not only was it the soap of the 1st century, but it was also used for cooking, lighting, anointing, and washing.
Jesus will mention the omitting of these three courtesies later in the narrative. No one in the room would have failed to observe their being left out.
When these three acts of hospitality were skipped over, Jesus had the full right of the culture to say, “I see that I am not welcome here,” and leave greatly offended.
But this not the way He responded. Instead, “He sat down to eat.”
More specifically, “He entered and reclined.” By reclining, Jesus takes the part of the eldest leader, because it was the eldest who was expected to take his place at the table first.
It is impossible to imagine that Jesus, at the age of 30, was the oldest man in the room. Most, if not all those around Him, were born before Him, some by decades.
Yet His response to the omission of the traditional courtesies was to recline at the table immediately upon arrival, as if He were the eldest, and therefore, most respected man in attendance.
This was high drama. What will happen next?
The story points out a woman who was present in the room who had a sinful reputation in the city. Later in the story Jesus tells Simon that from the time He arrived she has not stopped kissing His feet.
This detail is very revealing. Christ clearly affirms that she was present in the room when He entered, and therefore was a witness to His public humiliation at the hands of the host.
Why was she there?
Jesus was known to “receive sinners” and eat with them (Luke 15:2).
In Luke He had just attended a banquet with Levi the tax collector, and the Pharisees there complained with the question, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).
Clearly, in their view, no law-abiding Jew should do so. As they saw it, a sinner should (a) first confess his/her sins, (b) make compensation/restitution for them, and then (c) demonstrate sincerity by keeping the law.
With standards like these in place, it does not take much imagination to understand the kind of trap such a world set for a prostitute.
If she asks about compensation for her sins, she will likely be told, “In your case it is impossible!”
That is one reason Jesus was so appealing to her – He was willing to receive sinners and dine with them. Undoubtedly, she had heard Him preach about the mercy and grace of God. She connected the dots and believed by faith!
Overwhelmed with joy she was eager to show her gratitude to this good man who had set her free. So how did she respond her redeemer’s public humiliation?
Luke 7:37b when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil,
Luke 7:38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
Her actions are not random, nor are they entirely premeditated. She was reacting in the moment.
We are told that she “brought” the perfume (fragrant oil) with her, likely planning to anoint His hands and head. She did not plan to wash his hands or His feet (she brought neither water nor a towel).
Like anyone in the culture, she assumed the host would extend the traditional courtesies to His guests. Once he did not, her game plan fell apart.
What could she do now?
After reclining at the table, Jesus’ head and hands were no longer within her reach. Quickly she made a decision.
The host may have refused traditional hospitality to this visiting rabbi, but she will not let the insult stand. Instead, she will compensate for his rudeness and offer to Jesus the common courtesies herself!
But what if she asks for water? They will almost certainly not give it. They want to knock this young rabbi down a few notches. He’s too popular and too sure of Himself.
Angry over the disrespect Jesus was enduring and frustrated by her own powerlessness to do anything about it, she begins to weep.
Suddenly the light dawns. That’s it – her tears! She will wash His feet with her tears.
The text is very precise. First, she begins to weep and then she approaches His feet to wash them.
To climb up on the couch where He was reclining to try to wash His hands and anoint His head would be highly improper. It would trigger immediate criticism for engaging in “sexual misconduct.” But His uncleaned feet are another matter.
Surely no one could criticize her (or Him) if she washed His feet! Spoiler alert: they do.
But why was she there in the first place?
She did not enter Simon’s house “to make a fuss” over Christ, hoping to earn His forgiveness. She entered the room as an already-forgiven woman.
Had she not witnessed her Savior being shamed, the meal likely would have progressed the way all those kinds of meals do.
She would have waited her turn to express her gratitude and perhaps offer the gift of the expensive fragrant oil.
But she begins to weep, and clearly, her tears are not for her sins but for His public dishonor.
She is in anguish because, before her eyes, this beautiful person who set her free with His message of God’s love/grace for sinners, is being publicly humiliated.
The unnamed woman was deeply dismayed at the insult to Jesus, and said to herself, “They will not offer these courtesies! Very well, I will offer them instead!”
She washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Once washed, she kissed and anointed them with perfume.
Simon’s “plan” was now frustrated. The person he and his friends were deliberately shaming was now receiving special honor.
Her actions not only irritate, but also shock the “righteous” in the room. How so?
For starters, she uncovered her hair and made physical contact with Jesus, a man.
From the days of the Jewish rabbis to the present, in middle eastern culture, a woman was obliged to cover her hair in public.
The Mishnah lists the offenses that justify a man divorcing his wife without giving her a financial settlement. Among the items mentioned are, “If she goes out with her hair unbound, or spins in the street (dancing), or speaks with any man.”
The Talmud even states that “such a one it is a religious duty to divorce.”
It seems that for such rabbis, when a woman uncovered her hair in public she was offending God, because a woman’s hair was considered sexually provocative. It was only to be seen in the bedroom.
On the positive side, for a woman to keep her hair covered was a sign of religious faithfulness (piety).
illus: The Talmud records an important incident in the religious life of Israel – the one time in their history in which the high priest was defiled during the celebration of the liturgy of the day of Atonement. “It is told of R. Kimhith that he [high priest] went out and talked with a certain man in the street, and spittle from his mouth squirted on his garments, whereupon Joseph his brother entered and ministered in his stead so that their mother saw two high priests on one day. The sages said to her: ‘What have you done to merit such [glory]?’ She said: ‘Throughout the days of my life, the beams of my house have not seen the locks of my hair.’” This devout woman did not uncover her hair even at home! In her view, this habit earned her the honor of being the mother of two sons, each of which, on the same day officiated at the liturgy of the Day of Atonement as Israel’s high priest.
In their culture, both men/women wore long robes in public. After washing Christ’s feet with her tears, she did not have a towel with which to dry them.
Instead of using the folds of her robe (obvious choice), she decided to let down her long hair and dry His feet with it.
Why did she let her hair down and in the process inevitably “touch him?”
1 Cor 7:1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
In middle eastern culture, a bride on her wedding night lets down her hair and allows her husband to see it for the first time.
No one in the room could have missed the overtones of this woman’s gesture. Her reputation preceded her, and it was such that she had virtually no prospects of marrying. But she still had the will to commit her life to a man.
She washed the feet of the most extraordinary man she had ever encountered. By unloosing her hair, she is making some form of an ultimate pledge of loyalty to Jesus.
We need not read any bedroom desires into her act. She’s grateful for a new life that the gospel has granted her. That’s why she’s there in the first place – to say “thank you” to Jesus for receiving sinners like her.
The next question is, will He accept or reject this unexpected act?
He was expected to be embarrassed over the “touching” that He was receiving from the woman, and also shocked that she exposed her hair. Surely, He would nod to Simon to have her expelled from his house for such a scandalous display.
But to the amazement of the entire assembled crowd, Jesus allowed the scene to proceed and even accepted her gestures.
Did He have no sense of shame?
Luke 7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
Up to this point Jesus had not spoken to the woman. At least He had not crossed that boundary! But to let such a woman “touch” Him, even on the feet, was simply too intimate.
Simon’s words reveal his agenda. He had invited Jesus to his house to examine Him – if He were a prophet, Simon would know…
Surely no man of God would ever personally accept such outrageous behavior. They expected Jesus to give a speech like the following:
“Stop, lady! If you are grateful to God for having received forgiveness, go to the temple, and offer a thanksgiving sacrifice. In the court of the women you may draw as close to the presence of God as allowed. There is where your gratitude is appropriately expressed. But do not do this to Me. I am only a prophet speaking God’s word!”
Instead of a speech, Jesus offered a short parable.
Luke 7:41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
Luke 7:42a And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both.
In both OT/NT the phrases “canceling a debt” and “forgiving a sin/debt” overlap and are often synonymous.
The creditor in the parable freely forgave the debts of each debtor. A few verses later Jesus says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The parable ends by shifting the focus away from the debts to the responses of the forgiven debtors to this surprising grace.
Luke 7:42b Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
Luke 7:43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”
Jesus compliments Simon unexpectedly. Every rabbi had a day job but spent all available free time in debating the law and giving rulings on various legal issues. “You have rightly judged” is the kind of tribute every rabbi longed to receive.
Conversely, in his first dialogue with Jesus, Simon had judged the woman wrongly!
Luke 7:44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.
Luke 7:45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.
Luke 7:46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.
Luke 7:47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Luke 7:48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Simon tried to ignore her. Jesus calls on Simon to look at her. Then in an undeniable rebuke, Jesus outlines her activities – the very activities Simon owed Him as an invited guest.
“Simon, both of us are middle eastern men. I do not have to explain to you your duty to your guest. You have called me ‘Teacher (Rabbi).’ At your invitation I have entered your house and become your guest. You refuse to notice this woman whom you see as no more than a ‘sinner’ and you expect Me to do the same. But, can’t you see Simon, that she is making up for your inexcusable failure as a host, and if I am to avoid sinners then I will be obliged to avoid you?”
Jesus at last speaks to the woman, reaffirming her new life from earlier. “Your sins are forgiven.”
The Talmud strictly warned the rabbis not to talk to women in any public place, not even to their wives. Jesus violates that warning as He speaks to the woman with His word of reassurance.
The woman was not offering her love and devotion to Jesus hoping to receive forgiveness. Rather, she was responding to the fact that she had already received it. Forgiveness comes first and the offer of love is always a response to it.
Luke 7:49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Luke 7:50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Although the woman does not utter a single word, Jesus commends the power of her faith!
Her daily walk of trust had already begun because it was that walk that led her to risk rejection and insult by entering Simon’s house in the first place. She had no expectation of kindhearted treatment upon arrival.
Simon and his friends invited Jesus to a meal so that they could cross-examine Him, discover if He was a prophet, and chastise Him for receiving sinners.
A true prophet for Simon was someone who avoided sinners – particularly female sinners! For Jesus, being a true prophet involved being hurt for sinners by confronting their attackers.