“What Kind of Woman?”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

There are many passages in the gospels that leave me marveling at the ability of the Evangelists, and indeed of the Holy Spirit, to pack so much content and depth into so little space.  One such a passage is the story of the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.  It contains only three characters:  Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and an unnamed woman.  Really, only the woman does anything.  She weeps and washes Jesus’ feet with her perfume and her tears. 

Jesus does nothing.  He sits there and allows her to do it.  Outwardly, Simon does nothing.  Inwardly, though, He is seething.  He had invited Jesus into his home because he believed He was a prophet.  However, no holy man of God would allow a woman like that to touch him! 

Simon knew—or thought he knew—what kind of a woman she was.  We don’t know specifics, though Simon did.  All we know about her is that she was a sinner, and her sin was such that a Pharisee—even a more thoughtful Pharisee like Simon, a Pharisee who was willing to give Jesus a chance—would never consent to having her touch him.

Jesus, though, looked at her and saw a different kind of woman altogether.  Simon was wrong about Him—He did know about her past sins, in much greater detail than Simon did.  However, Jesus didn’t focus on those things.

Instead, He focused on the tears she shed, the tears that showed her sorrow for her sin.  He focused on her humility, her willingness to kiss His feet, filthy with the mire of the streets, and wipe them with her hair.  He focused on her willingness to sacrifice for His sake by anointing His feet with perfume.  We don’t know how much her perfume was worth, but the perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus for burial was worth 300 denarii, and it’s likely that the value in this case was similar.  He focused on her choice to come to a place where she knew she would not be welcome, a place where she would be sneered at and hated, in order to be near Him. 

In short, He focused on her faith, the faith that would save her from her sins.  To Jesus, that was the kind of woman she was—someone who trusted in Him to forgive her, someone whom He would gladly forgive.  Indeed, she received her salvation before she left the room. 

However, her spiritual transformation is probably not the only one in the story.  Scholars believe that when Luke identifies a minor character in his gospel by name, it’s because he talked to that person and is using them as a source.  If that’s the case here, Luke got the story not from the woman, but from Simon, a disciple of Jesus decades after the events in the story took place.

In that case, the story does not only reveal the woman’s repentance.  It reveals Simon’s too:  his remorse at judging her so harshly, his shame at not seeing what Jesus sees, and his willingness to humble himself and exalt Jesus by recounting these events to Luke.  Ultimately, then, this is not only the woman’s salvation narrative, but Simon’s too, as he realized what kind of a man he was and the depth of his need for Jesus.

What kind of people are we?  Are we humbled by Jesus in the midst of sins that lead the “good people” of the world to regard us with contempt?  Or, instead, are we humbled by Him in the midst of our religious pride, as He gently reminds us that we need His grace as desperately as the worst sinner out there?

“Forgiven sinner” is the only kind of people that we can dare to be.  There is no hope in being anything else.