One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 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. Then she continued 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 creditor 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 sins, which were many, 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?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
What I am Learning:
Dinner conversation in the first century is not like a friendly dinner party. Dinners functioned like a debate, like a competition for honor.
Women were not to touch a man not related to them, and never in public. When the woman begins to anoint Jesus and he allows it, Jesus is allowing himself to be dishonored, that is to lose reputation/status. Furthermore, this woman was known to not obey the 613 laws Jewish people believed were necessary to be faithful to God.
Note that she is not necessarily a prostitute – that is a person who takes money for sex. In this century, a woman with no male to protect her was assumed to be a prostitute, but may have not actually made money this way.
In this century, she is a nothing, and less than a nothing. Her life will be short, nasty and brutal.
When Jesus allows her to touch him, he becomes a nothing in the eyes of others.
She is willing to trust God’s love revealed in Jesus, a love that cares nothing for public honor, reputation or the expectations by which we judge each other and rank each other.
In this time, the Temple leaders preached that God could not forgive outside of the Temple sacrifice. The Temple served as a “company store” for forgiveness. The Temple made people feel guilty for not obeying the 613 laws and then offered, for a price, a sacrifice to forgive it.
Jesus undercuts the Temple. He pays no attention to the rules that demanded that he rebuke her and send her away. Then he announces God’s forgiveness to her. Through his actions he calls the Temple authorities on their rule-keeping system of control and announces that God is always willing to forgive. Sacrifices were made for humans to experience forgiveness, not requirements for God to forgive.
She risked being thrown out of the house and the continued abuse of her townspeople. This is her faith: her risking trust is what Jesus calls faith.
And that willingness to risk brings her to salvation: that is to healing, a life enfolded in God’s love and affirmation.