The following below is based on the events found in Luke 7: 36-50. I love this story of grace and mercy–the story of intense boldness from a woman who, in her day, had every reason to be anxious about this encounter with Christ. I want to live and walk in courage as she did; worshiping and serving Jesus genuinely, wholeheartedly and with reckless abandon, not allowing fear and anxiety to stand in the way of passionate obedience.
She learned that he would be there this evening, eating dinner just down the road from her home with a Pharisee; Jesus, the man who she had heard was going about town healing people and forgiving their sins and talking as if He personally knew Yahweh. She had seen Jesus preaching to a crowd of people outside the town square, and caught bits and pieces of the truth he spoke of regarding forgiveness and freedom. However, she knew better than to join the crowd and cause a disruption—a sinner like her approaching a man like him would only cause controversy. She managed to listen as well as she could from a safe distance.
She looked at her reflection in the washbasin in her flat, her dark eyes piercing and hair long and dark and unbraided down her back. She felt the weight of her own sin heavy and rock solid on her shoulders—her stomach churned within as memories raced through her mind of the people she had hurt and the dishonorable things she had done. Surely, if what Jesus was teaching was true and if the miracles were real, He had the power to forgive her—and the heaviness would be gone. She could be new.
She washed her face in the basin and dried it with a nearby cloth. She opened the locked chest of her most precious belongings with a key she wore around her neck and removed a small alabaster jar of perfume oil. She held it up in the afternoon sun, admiring the exquisite etchings in the sides of the jar; this fragranced oil was worth more than a year’s work, given to her by her grandmother a week before she died. She was relieved her grandmother had passed away before she had started living the way that she had been—and she knew if there would be any way to honor this gift and the memory of her grandmother, this would be it. She opened the lid of the jar and breathed in the fragrance; it smelled of blooming roses and crisp blue sky.
She stood up and smoothed her dress, tucking the expensive gift of perfume away safely out of sight in her clothes and left her flat. She hurried down the cobble stone allies, her hair dancing and bobbing down her back, ignoring the hungry glances of men who were past customers. She knew the house of the Pharisee that Jesus was visiting, and made a sharp left down the road and walked briskly in that direction.
She knew she was not welcome; she doubted she would be allowed to enter—but something pulled her in, beckoned her closer to Jesus.
Walking westward past the familiar houses, her sandals making light tick tick noises against the stone walkway, the afternoon sun was sharp in her eyes and she shielded the sun with her hand. Her stomach began to churn with nervousness; the feeling of hot, tingling terror creeping up her toes and her legs and her abdomen. Although she was getting fairly close to the house, the voice of fear started to speak to her—it swirled about her mind in a rush of thoughts threatening to incapacitate her plan to see Jesus, to give him a gift, to serve him.
Questions flashed through her mind, heavy with dread. What if the Pharisees mock me? What if they tell Jesus what I have done and what sort of woman I have been? I am a sinner. What if I appear foolish? What if they have me arrested for entering their home? What if they ask me to leave before I can give Jesus this gift? What if they have me killed?
She started perspiring, the sun hot and her heart racing from horror. A woman like her could be stoned, could be sent to jail. If she were to touch a man like Jesus, known for his righteousness and goodness, it could be an embarrassment to him—could she ruin his reputation?
Her heart sunk within her deep; what if Jesus asks me to leave? Sends me away? Would this even be worth it? What if I use up all of this perfume—all my savings—and could have used the oil to pay off my debts instead? What if I enter the room, and a man that has paid me before is eating with them? Her worry grew large as she approached the house, it was just a couple doors further down the street and then she would be there. What if Jesus ignores me? I am not good enough, I am not worthy of being welcomed into the home where such a man is dining. She doubted her plan to see him up close was a wise idea. The fearful thoughts were shouting at her to run back home.
She reached the house of the Pharisee in which Jesus was dining. Despite the flood of doubt, worry, and fear that filled her mind and heart, she let herself in, entering the room in which the men sat and talked quietly amongst themselves reclining together at the table. They all looked up at her, the Pharisees’ eyes wide in surprise and irritation at the unwelcome interruption of their educated discussion. She was panting from the fast walk in the warm sun, her skin glowing and flushed with color, her dark hair rolling down her back long and wet at the temples from perspiring.
“Jesus?” she asked fearfully, her heart pounding within her chest at the thought of what she was about to do and all the repercussions. He looked at her from where he sat; his eyes seemed as if he already knew she was going to be there this evening. The bold move she made next would be a moment she would cherish for a lifetime, she would remember it as the turning point of her soul and would tell the story to her neighbors and children and her children’s children.
She fell at Jesus’ feet with blatant disregard of the audience in the room—and she cried. Hot tears came in waves down her warm, flushed face—she felt the rush of letting everything she held so tightly fall away. She grabbed on to his ankles, his heels, his arches, his toes. Her tears were so numerous she began to wet his feet with them. Lines of salty drops rolled down His feet and made patterns and lines in the dust that they carried.
Although the men stared in disbelief and disgust at this inappropriate behavior, she hardly was conscious they were in the room while she was at the height of adrenaline that comes with such an intimate act. There were no cloths nearby and, in her nervous state, she forgot to bring one of her own. She took her long and full dark hair into her hands, and began wiping Jesus’ sandy, tear-laden feet with her hair and kissed them tenderly in front of the company. The Pharisee knew this woman was a sinner, and did not understand why Jesus allowed her to touch him. Wasn’t he a prophet? Didn’t Jesus know?
Jesus didn’t ask her to leave; he did not turn her away.
She stayed focused on the task at hand, she reached for the jar of perfume oil that she had tucked away and poured out the whole bottle lavishly on his feet. All eyes were on her, all eyes knew the cost of such a gift. In that moment, she did not care what they thought, what her fears told her, or what she thought of herself. All she cared about is what Jesus thought of her.
Jesus began to tell a story to Simon, another man in the room, about some men who owed money and had debts cancelled, but honestly she was too nervous to pay attention to what they were saying—so many thoughts were racing. She continued to wash his feet carefully and lovingly, as an expression of gratitude to the Son of God.
After Jesus was finished speaking to Simon and the Pharisees, he looked down at her and said with a voice full of affection and authority, “Your sins are forgiven.”
And her heart was light.
English Standard Version (ESV)
A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 One of the Pharisees asked him 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.”