June 17, 2001

Luke 7:36-8:3

One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee's house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet. weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him."

Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Oh? tell me."

"Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?"

Simon answered, "I suppose the one who was forgiven the most."

"That's right," said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, "Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she if very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal."

Then he spoke to her: "I forgive your sins."

That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: "Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!"

He ignored them and said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

He continued according to plan, traveled to town after town, village after village, preaching God's kingdom, spreading the Message. The Twelve were with him. There were also some women in their company who had been healed of various evil afflictions and illnesses: Mary, the one called Magdalene, form whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's manager; and Susanna--along with many others who used their considerable means to provide for the company.

<The Message >


1. An image which cannot be emphasized enough, given our lack of noting it for a long time, is that there were women who traveled with Jesus and that they need to be honored with the title Disciple. In fact Mary Magdalene meets all the criteria usually used for the title Apostle.

When Simon said to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him." he was exemplifying the way in which we keep ourselves blinded to the work of the Spirit. We fail to check reality with the people themselves. Neither the woman's self-definition nor Jesus' response to her were so limited.

May we have the grace not to presume we know another so well as to cast them aside unseen and unheard.

2. "Here Luke introduces a second category of women who number among the followers of Jesus--repentant sinners. Luke's story of this repentant woman as been seen as an excellent example of Lukan concern for women. In this story Jesus' interest is widened to include even those women who inhabit the back alleys, marketplaces, and streets of a Hellenistic city, namely, slave women and prostitutes. As such, this unnamed woman serves as an example of one of the 'tax-collectors and sinners' that Jesus is portrayed as befriending (Luke 7:22,39)....

"...Kilgallen has suggested that the previous pericope indicates that the woman is here depicted expressing her gratitude because she is in fact no longer a 'sinner.' Although many commentators have suggested that it is Jesus who is responsible for the woman's forgiveness of sins, Kilgallen suggests that the woman's sins 'have been forgiven (perfect tense) sometime in the past. For this reason Kilgallen suggests that the woman is probably among the 'tax-collectors' and others who underwent the baptism of John earlier in the chapter (7:29-30)....

"... the woman's position at Jesus' feet in Luke 7 underscores her servile posture and her submission to him. She does not join him at the table but becomes an image of the many servants who respond to John and Jesus. The response of this kind of woman juxtaposed to the lack of response on the part of the Pharisees contributes to Luke's literary irony. In Luke, repentant women, including at least one repentant prostitute, number among those 'sinners' who have left the followers of John the Baptist to join the followers of Jesus. That such a woman remains at Jesus' feet, not joining him at the table, suggests Luke's concern for Greco-Roman propriety."

[Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition , Kathlene C. Corley, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993]

3. The Gift of Gratitude by Thomas John Carlisle.
[brings together the various anointing stories in the Gospels]

is too good
for Jesus.
That's the way
the man he healed--
Simon the leper--
appeared to feel
for he failed
to take any special care
to make Jesus comfortable
but simply let him be
one guest among a throng.
Nothing--only nothing--
was good enough
for Jesus.

But the woman
who washed his road-stained feet
(an apt example!)
with tears of gratitude
and precious perfume
and dried them
with her hair
with no concern
for what the "righteous" men
might say about her
was demonstrating
her opinion:
Nothing was too good
for Jesus
and doing everything
was still not good enough.

And she was right.

[From: Beginning with Mary: Women of the Gospels in Portrait, Eerdmans, 1986]

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