Along with Jesus, two people are prominent in Luke 7:36-50, a Pharisee and a woman. From a distance, the Pharisee would appear to be the more righteous of the two. He had dedicated his life to keeping the law. The woman, on the other hand, was a known sinner, possibly a prostitute. But this passage looks more closely at how they relate to Jesus, and the truth turns out to be very different from what it seems.
The Pharisee invited Jesus to come for dinner. But it wasn’t the hospitable gesture we might think. Dinner was an opportunity to discuss (or debate) the issues of the day. It was also a semi-public forum, as the courtyard was open to any who might want to watch and listen. Jesus had likely taught at the synagogue, and this would have been the Pharisee’s chance for rebuttal.
From the moment Jesus arrived, the Pharisee did everything he could to embarrass and humiliate Jesus. He denied Him common courtesies. Not only did he not provide a servant to wash Jesus’ feet, he didn’t even provide water. He didn’t greet Jesus with as kiss (as any hospitable host would have done). And he didn’t give him the customary oil to anoint his head.
Although he had invited Jesus in, he was inhospitable and self-interested.
When the sinful woman saw the way Jesus was treated, she had to act. She was the last person you’d expect to come Jesus’ defense, but she did. She did everything in her power to fix the wrongs done to Jesus and to give Him the honor He was due. She washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She kissed his feet. And she anointed his feet with ointment.
She knew she was a sinner, but she was humble and selfless toward the Lord.
Jesus tells a parable that illustrates the relationship between love and forgiveness. The woman — the sinner — loved Jesus because she had been forgiven by Him. And that is the only way that we can love. We first must be forgiven by the Lord, transformed into His likeness, and then just like the sinner in the story, we can love God and give Him the glory He deserves.