How do you show respect to an elder or an important person?
In our culture it’s mostly through the words you use. “Sir” or “ma’am.” “No, please, after you…”
But in many other cultures, respect is something you show with your body. In Japan, for example, you bow at the waist to show your respect. The farther you bow, the more important the person.
When I was in Kenya, I learned that whenever you were shaking an elder’s hand, you’d use your other hand to support yourself because the weight of their presence is just so heavy.
But in India (which is a very socially stratified country), if you’re lower on the spectrum and you wanted to show respect to an elder or spiritual guru, you’d actually bend over and touch their feet with your hands.
You want to connect with the person but you’re only worthy to touch the lowest part of their body.
I went to a few large rallies where VIP spiritual guys would show up and it was almost comical. They could barely walk forward because people kept jumping in front of them to touch their feet.
The reason I tell you all this is because we’re going to look at a story today that I don’t think is all that different from what I saw in India, where someone very low on the social ladder touches Jesus’ feet in a unique way.
This is the final week of our series “Moments with Jesus.” If you’re just joining us, we’re looking at very specific moments in the ministry of Jesus that give us insight into who he is, what he cares about, and how he sees this world.
So go ahead and grab a Bible and turn to
Luke 7:36, Page _____
Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about the widow who had lost her son in the village of Nain, and Jesus raised him to life? Well, this more than likely took place in the same village. It’s only a few verses later.
So it’s no surprise that Jesus has made a bit of a name for himself, so one of the local religious leaders wants to meet with him.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
Let’s start here.
Even though today I want us to talk about this “immoral woman” and her encounter with Jesus, in the narrative structure Luke is really focusing on this Pharisee named Simon.
The story starts with Simon inviting Jesus to dinner. He’s curious. He’s checking out this controversial rabbi to see what he’s all about. But as we’ll see, the story is a bit open-ended.
We don’t ultimately know what Simon decides about Jesus.
By leaving it open ended like this, Luke wants his readers to make up their own minds. What do we feel about this rather scandalous moment with Jesus? What will we decide?
So why is this moment so scandalous?
Well, picture the scene. In that day, men would eat dinner together by reclining on their left side with their feet out so they could eat with their right hand and talk.
And at this dinner party, this woman sneaks in (or breaks in?) to the party. She’s not welcome there, so this is already disruptive. But then what she does is even crazier.
She lets her hair down, which is not something women did in public.
She doesn’t just touch Jesus’ feet, she kisses them and washes them with her tears. And then she puts this expensive perfume on them. The whole room was probably filled with the smell.
The verbs in Greek here are all continuous; they build on each other. She’s weeping/bathing/drying/kissing/anointing… It’s this outflow of deep emotion.
Now, touching Jesus’ feet might have been seen as an act of respect like in India today, but all this other stuff was totally inappropriate at a dinner party filled with all the mucky-mucks in town.
So already we have a scandalous disruption to this dinner party. But it is made way more scandalous because of who this woman is.
The phase “immoral woman,” literally a “woman who was a sinner,” is almost undoubtedly code for her being a prostitute. She sold her body for sex. In a town of this size, everybody would have known who she was and what she did.
Now, it’s possible that she chose this profession to make a buck. It’s also possible that she was forced into it in some way. Whether she was sold into it by her parents, or maybe did it out of economic desperation.
I spent some time in Cambodia several years ago working with a ministry rescuing girls from the sex trade, and I met many girls and young women who were prostitutes through absolutely no choice of their own. That could have been this woman’s story.
Regardless of how she found herself here, with a job like that, this woman would have been considered ritually unclean. Someone to avoid. Someone to shame and keep at arm’s length.
Because her spiritual uncleanliness was contagious. Her immorality was not something you wanted to be associated with.
So for this “sinful woman” to even touch a godly rabbi was scandalous in and of itself. But she didn’t just touch him. She bathed his feet with her tears.
MUCH IS FORGIVEN
So you’ve got this disruptive moment with this unsavory woman doing this scandalous thing, and Jesus seems to just let it happen. If he knew her reputation, Jesus would have shut this whole thing down immediately, right?
You don’t let a prostitute touch your feet!
At least, that’s what Simon the Pharisee thinks. And so while this woman is anointing his feet (imagine that - she’s in the process of doing this), Jesus says this:
Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said.
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
What a powerful moment. Especially the moment in verse 44 where Jesus turns to the woman. She’s an outcast, a nobody… She doesn’t deserve to be there. She deserves to be ignored.
And yet Jesus looks right at her – he turns away from the dinner party and turns to her – he acknowledges her humanity. It’s beautiful…
Luke includes two little narrative twists here that the reader does not see coming.
First, we learn that Simon had neglected his duties as a host. He didn’t have his servants wash his guest’s feet, he didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss, he didn’t anoint his head with oil.
If you respected someone back then, and you were having them over for dinner, you’d do all these things and more.
Simon didn’t respect Jesus. But this woman did all these things. And went way beyond them.
She didn’t just wash his feet; she washed them with her tears. She didn’t just give him a kiss of greeting on the cheek; she kissed his feet. She didn’t put a dab of olive oil on his head; she poured out expensive perfume onto his body.
This woman honored Jesus extravagantly, and this Pharisee didn’t lift a finger. It’s almost as if she knew who Jesus really was, and what he deserved.
And this is where the second plot twist comes in. It’s subtle, but if you look at verse 47, Jesus says “her sins - and they are many - have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.”
“Have been.” In other words, this already happened.
The implication is that Jesus had already met this woman. Not only did he already know her profession, her reputation, but he had already forgiven her sins.
This act of anointing his feet was not her pleading for forgiveness. It was an outpouring of gratitude because she had been forgiven!
While Simon is still on the fence about whether this rabbi is legit, this woman is honoring her savior with everything she has. She understands who he is.
Who is he? He is a savior who…
Jesus wipes the slate clean.
Think about this all from her perspective. You’re an unclean woman. You’re an outcast nobody. You don’t want this job. It’s dirty. It’s disgusting. It’s humiliating.
And every day that goes by you feel further and further away from the God your people follow.
But then this holy man. This prophet of God. This miracle worker who just raised a widow’s son from the dead last week…
He knows who you are and he looks you in the eyes and he tells you your sins are forgiven. You’ve got a clean slate. That in the eyes of God you are just as holy - just as clean - as anyone else.
How do you even begin to say thank you?
You grab the one valuable possession you have - the perfume you wear to make a living - you sneak into a Pharisee’s dinner party - you fall down at the feet of Jesus and you weep and you wash and you kiss and you anoint him as the tears stream down your face.
“Thank you, Jesus, for setting me free.”
Towards the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Jesus kicks off his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
This is the very reason Jesus was here. To give hope to the poor and downtrodden. To set people free. To proclaim captives will be released.
And that work, “released”? In Greek it’s the same word as the word “forgiven.” “He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be forgiven/released.”
It’s the word Jesus uses in verse 48. “Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your sins are [released].’” You’re forgiven. You’re no longer a captive.
The prophecy of Isaiah was coming true for her. The time of the Lord’s favor has come.
Which is why Jesus tells this woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Peace for Jesus is not an absence of war and violence. Peace is the coming of God’s New Creation to the earth. A return to Eden for humanity. Things the way they were meant to be with God’s rule and reign complete.
Peace is wholeness and life and abundance and joy. Harmony between neighbors. And most of all, peace is the presence of God in our midst.
And this is what Jesus proclaims to this broken, outcast, sinful woman. The time of the Lord’s favor has come for you.
You are released. “Go in peace.”
Jesus wipes the slate clean.
And now this forgiven woman could live the kind of life God always desired for her to have. A life of peace lived in the very presence of God. She’s not an outcast anymore.
Let me ask you this. Has the time of the Lord’s favor come for you?
Are your sins forgiven? Is your slate wiped clean? Are you set free? Are you going in peace? If so, what is your response?
When I think of what Jesus has done for me in his love, what God’s grace has accomplished for me - me in my sin and my shame and my filth and my selfishness - it overwhelms me.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
All of it!
You and I are no different than this sinful woman. We’ve all fallen short. So why would our response to the extravagant love of our savior be different?
I hope – especially if you’ve been a follower of Christ for a long time - that this moment with Jesus is an opportunity to fall once more at his feet and pour out our gratitude to him.
Have you thanked him recently for wiping your slate clean?
Now, that’s if you’ve experienced the forgiveness of Jesus.
If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?
We just spent the last month getting to know our savior.
We’ve seen his mercy - the fact that he would call broken people to follow him.
We’ve seen his compassion - his deep and heartfelt care for what we’re going through.
We’ve seen his divinity - his willingness to become one of us in his love.
We’ve seen his relentless passion to make things right in our broken world.
And today we’ve seen that he wants to set prisoners free. To wipe the slate clean.
All of that is who Jesus is and who he wants to be for you.
If you are still a prisoner – if you’re still chained to sin and shame – if you feel like an outcast – what are you waiting for?
Our savior is faithful and just to forgive you. All you have to do is ask. And then you and me can fall at his feet and pour out our gratitude.
Oh, and you’re still thinking, “not me… I’m too messed up. My stuff is too dark, even for Jesus.” I want you to remember something:
The Pharisees thought Jesus became unclean when this woman touched him. That her impurity was contagious. Maybe you think the same thing.
But that’s just it.
You can’t soil Jesus with your filth.
You can’t corrupt Jesus with your rot.
You can’t defile Jesus with your impurity.
Because his purity is what's contagious. You come near to him and your filth washes away.
I’m going to ask you again. What are you waiting for? Will you trust Jesus to forgive? Because if you do, he is faithful to wipe your slate clean.
How can we not say ‘thank you’ to that?