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JESUS ANOINTED BY A SINFUL WOMAN

Luke 7:36-7:50
Key Verse: 7:38

In the previous passage we could think of the work of the Messiah. Jesus’ work was the very work only the Messiah could uniquely do and he thus showed he is the Messiah. Messiah, Christ in Greek, means “anointed.” In today’s passage Jesus was anointed by a sinful woman. This was a totally unexpected event. Her act was the act of love for Jesus, the messiah. This passage teaches us about forgiveness and love, his grace of forgiveness of sins and our love for him.

First, a woman poured perfume on Jesus (36-38). Look at verse 1. “Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus was invited to the table by a Pharisee on three separate occasions (11:37; 14:1). Though Jesus knew that the Pharisees, as a group, were unfriendly (or: hostile) to him, he did not shun them. Rather, he accepted the invitation out of his heart for them. At that time, the houses of well-to-do people were built around an open courtyard, forming a hollow square. In the square was a garden and fountain, and in warm weather, meals were served there. At that time in the East, in order to eat, people reclined at the table lying on low couches, resting on the left elbow, leaving the right hand free. In such houses many kinds of parties were customarily given for the enjoyment of social gatherings. All kinds of people came in freely to listen to the wisdom that fell from the lips of distinguished guests. Obviously, the Pharisee in this passage was enjoying a luxurious life. As a collector of celebrities, he must have already invited a number of distinguished people into his home. This time, he invited Jesus. Maybe he was an admirer of Jesus and wanted to know more about him, for Jesus had been a man in question throughout the country.

Probably all the guests reclined at the table and stewards were carrying food to serve. All of a sudden, a woman disturbed the whole atmosphere. Look at verse 37. “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” She was uninvited, but she came in since the house was open to all. Yet, her appearance was to everyone’s surprise. And her act was so radical, weeping, wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing the feet and then pouring out her perfume on them. What an embarrassing moment for Jesus! However, Jesus did not reject or rebuke her. Rather, Jesus gladly accepted her anointment. We wonder: why might she have acted like this?

She must have heard of Jesus, who healed the sick and diseased, drove out evil spirits, raised the dead, and preached the good news to the poor. He said to a paralytic lying in bed, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” and then made him get up and walk as the validation of his authority to forgive sins. He called a notorious public sinner, a tax collector Levi, and in this calling Levi’s life was changed. Jesus’ welcoming sinners and forgiving their sins and granting them the hope of the kingdom of God was truly good news to her. At the good news of Jesus she must have repented of her sins and sinful life, most probably as a town prostitute, and put her faith and trust in Jesus. Then the divine grace of forgiveness of sins was true to her. She could have the peace of God and the joy of heaven, and a new hope arose in her in Jesus. Since then, she could not contain her thanks to Jesus. As soon as she heard that Jesus had come into her town, she had to see Jesus by any means to express her deep gratitude toward him. That’s why she must have acted in such a way.

In the gospel story many people received the grace of Jesus. Yet their responses to his grace varied. Luke describes this excellently in his gospel. In Luke 17 Jesus healed ten lepers but only one person came back to Jesus and said, “Thank you” (17:11-19). In chapter 21 Jesus saw a poor widow putting two very small copper coins into the temple treasury and praised her for giving in poverty all she had to live on (21:1-4). Surely she did so out of her thanks to God. In today’s passage this woman’s response to the grace of Jesus seemed to be extreme to people’s eyes, but a right one before God. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears. Her tears were from her pure and penitent heart, and were also tears of thanks. She wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. Hair and hairstyle are very important to women. Paul said that long hair is a woman’s glory (1 Cor 11:15). But this woman loosened her tresses and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. She kissed them, which was her expression of respect and love. Then she poured out her perfume on Jesus’ feet. At that time perfume was rare and expensive, while olive oil, plentiful and cheap. She must have prepared the perfume, saving her hard-earned money little by little, for her future marriage. The alabaster jar had a long neck. To pour out its contents this neck had to be broken. When she poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet, she gave the most expensive and precious thing to Jesus. Nothing was worthy of sparing in response to the grace she received from Jesus. Jesus became the most precious one to her. She offered her tears, hair and perfume, all she had, to Jesus, yet that this was done to Jesus’ feet. It showed that in doing so, she still felt unworthy of the wonderful Saviour Jesus and his amazing grace. What she did was her act of true love and humble and whole-hearted devotion.

We are living in a culture where any extremity is to be avoided, while moderateness is well accepted. Even Ecclesiastes 7:18 says, “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” We know that to have balance and moderation in human life is very important. So many believers think that even in the realm of faith, being moderate is favourable and wise. But this cannot be so in response to God’s grace. We believe that Luke wrote this event as an example for all those who have received the grace of Jesus to follow, how to respond to the grace of Jesus they received. Before God what she did was not extreme, but a right thing to do as one who received the unfathomable grace of Jesus.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:13-15, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” C.T. Studd said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, nothing I sacrifice is too great for Him.”

Second, Jesus defended her (39-50). In this part we see that when she was radical in the eyes of people, she became vulnerable. But Jesus defended her.

Look at verse 39. “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” This Pharisee was living and thinking in the world of legalism and self-righteousness, proud of himself and judging others. It was because he did not know who Jesus was, and so could not see the woman’s heart changed in Jesus. In short his eyes were not opened to see the world of heart and grace.

Jesus really wanted to help this man personally, who had anyway invited Jesus into his house. Jesus knew the question on his mind and answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. Perhaps he expected a kind of compliment about his house and rich table, as other guests may have given him. At this point, to Simon, Jesus was merely a teacher. Then Jesus told a short story, hoping that Simon might know the world of grace, and have eyes to see the woman and himself correctly before God: “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” In this parable, human life is likened to the life of debts, unpayable debts, before God. We are debtors, not creditors before God. And a debtor refers to a sinner. When God sent his Son Jesus into this world, God wanted to cancel the debt of each one through his Son’s sacrifice on the cross. And love for God comes from knowing this cancellation of debt. In this grace we can live as debtors of his love.

To Simon, the story was very plain and the question, easy. So Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Although Simon judged correctly, he could not really understand the story. He could not correctly judge about himself. Simon did not realize that he was a debtor, a sinner before God. So Jesus turned toward the woman and spoke to Simon straightforwardly: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” Here Jesus compared what Simon did not do and what the woman did. Giving water, kiss and oil was a basic courtesy for the invited guests at that time. However, Simon did not do any of these to Jesus, although he was the host. It was because his heart was dry, not knowing Jesus and his grace. In the contrast to what Simon did not do, Jesus mentioned what she did in detail, one by one, wetting his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair, kissing them nonstop, and pouring her perfume on them. It was because her heart was right with God, penitent, full of joy and thanks in the abundant grace of Jesus.

The punch line is verse 47: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” In this verse what she did was the expression of her love for Jesus. But we should understand what Jesus said here. Her love expressed in her act has not brought forgiveness of her many sins. Rather the forgiveness of her many sins by Jesus has resulted in her much love for Jesus. So her much love for Jesus was the confirmation that her many sins have been forgiven. In NIV 2011 version, it is translated, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.” In NET, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much.” In NLT, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.” In MSG, “Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful.”

In the next part of this verse Jesus made it clear, saying, “But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” It means, “little forgiveness, little love, and so “no forgiveness, no love.”

Then some may wonder, “Does this mean that those who commit much sin will be forgiven much and love much; those who commit little sin are forgiven little and love little?” We understand that being forgiven much or little does not rely on the amount of the sins one committed, but the degree to which the person realizes his or her sin and sinfulness. Saint Francis of Assisi was once very sick due to malnutrition. One of his disciples brought him a cooked hen. He ate it. Then his conscience was stricken when he thought that he had eaten a hen when Jesus had not. He ordered one of his disciples to tie a rope around his neck, and to drag him along the streets as he shouted, “This chicken eater is the most wretched and miserable sinner!” Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” Here we can find a biblical truth that the more we realize Jesus’ grace of forgiveness of sins, the more we can love him,

And as for the woman, forgiven, she loved. Then isn’t it true that showing love, in turn, also increases the assurance of having been forgiven? It is also a biblical truth that the more we love Jesus, the more can realize his grace of forgiveness. The grace of Jesus multiplies in us as we love Jesus, but his grace diminishes as our love for Jesus gets cold. Forgiveness and love go together. Because of God’s grace of forgiveness of sins through his Son Jesus, we can love him and feed his flock and do his work. And also, as we serve God and his flock and do his work out of love for him, we can go deeper into his grace.

Look at verse 48. “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Now Jesus himself confirmed the forgiveness of her sins to her great encouragement. In a criticizing environment, it is easy to become unsure of his grace. But Jesus confirmed his grace, speaking to her directly, “Your sins are forgiven.” What she believed was true. It must not be overlooked that when Jesus publicly declared, “Your sins are forgiven,” he said this not only for the sake of the woman herself, that she might be doubly assured, but also for the sake of the other guests, that they might no longer regard her as “a sinner.” At this the other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Still people could not accept her, condemning her as a sinner. But she was forgiven and accepted by God. The atmosphere was still critical and discouraging. Jesus completely ignored them, when they said, “Who is this…?” Jesus said to the woman further, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Her faith in Jesus’ grace of forgiveness of sins was so precious like treasure hidden in her heart. No one could see it, but Jesus saw it and brought it to the surface to be noticed in the public. Jesus encouraged and strengthened her faith. Being saved, she would be eternally blessed. “Your faith has saved you” This is important as showing that the love spoken of earlier was the consequence, not the cause, of her salvation.

Thank God for the wonderful grace of Jesus that came upon each of us. May we learn from the woman to respond to the grace of Jesus we have received so that we too can show much love to him as ones whose sins are forgiven much. May we live as debtors of his love in his grace of cancellation of the debts of our sins.

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