Disdain or Devotion
There’s this story in Luke 7 we spoke about in a past post. A man and a woman are at a dinner with Jesus, and we talked about the man’s response to Jesus. As the powerful Pharisee in the story, we may expect him to be the model character, the one to emulate. But Jesus reveals his heart when he tells him a story. Even his private judgment thoughts become plain to all. (Luke 7:39)
We didn’t talk at all about the other character in the story: the woman. While the he was powerful and important, she was the least and the last. He was the great host. She snuck in uninvited. He judged from a state of shock and discomfort; she poured out her emotion unhindered. His chose disdain. She chose devotion. Let’s talk about her.
The Woman - Disgrace, Humiliation, and Hope
The story goes that the man brought Jesus into his home and into the courtyard without any of the normal services provided for a guest. In a culture of great hospitality, this wouldn’t have been an accidental oversight. Jesus was being treated like a guest without distinction, without honor.
But then, through the cracks of the courtyard, this woman came in. “Behold,” it says in verse 37. Getting our attention and drawing us into the story.
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment.”
This local woman had heard Jesus was coming here tonight and had planned to follow him. Did she hear through the town gossip? Maybe. Even though she knew that other people would surround the courtyard to watch, she was determined to be here. Why did she come? We can only guess she had been in the crowds listening to Jesus teach.
Perhaps she had heard him say to another poor man that his sins were forgiven! (Luke 5:20) Then later in the crowd she heard him say to a group of Pharisees that he had come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) They had huffed and puffed about that, but maybe her heart had raced like it was going to come out of her chest. “Does that mean there is hope for me?” she had thought to herself. Could He call me? Could He forgive me? Could He give grace to me?
This woman knew she was a sinner; the whole city seemed to know. Humility came as she realized her great need for forgiveness. She knew she wasn’t enough, wasn’t good. She knew she needed grace, and grace would bring forgiveness and healing.
Her sins were public, stealing and selling herself probably. Most likely in poverty and without protection, she did what she needed to get by. She made bad choices, but in the end, she knew she failed to honor God with her life. She knew that it was costly to pay for her sin, but she didn’t see she had any hope other than a miracle beyond her control.
So, she came to Jesus.
Her Reaction to Jesus
“38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”
Her desperation and love poured from her like water from a pitcher as she stepped up to Jesus. She brought her expensive ointment, scented with oil that smelled like trees and spices, in an alabaster container. It’s likely that she was saving it for something special. For the day when she had no more food so she could sell it? For her wedding day? For a bribe? For seduction? Yet, she brought it to this courtyard, in a courtyard full of judgmental men and her watching neighborhood, and anointed Jesus. She began to cry and wash his feet, for no one had washed them.
The devotion that had not been shown to him by one was now shown to him by the outcast, the uninvited sinner who snuck into the party. Jesus had finally been offered clean feet, a kiss, and anointing.
Disdain or Devotion
Those present likely felt shocked and horrified along with the Pharisee when this happened. Their evaluation of who was in the right would have fallen among the social norms. Many would have seen the man as respectable and honored. He invited Jesus to his house after all. The woman is acting in an extremely socially awkward way, touching Jesus and uninvited to the party.
The difference between the man and woman did not become evident to all until Jesus spoke to his host, teaching him about forgiveness and love. (Luke 7:40-47) It's the devotion of the woman which revealed her grasp of her need of forgiveness. Her response of love showed her faith in the one who would offer it. She is the truly gifted one in the upside-down kingdom of grace.
It is disdain that has flowed from the man’s heart. Though he was familiar with Jesus, there was no understanding of his debt. Jesus’ pointed out his lack of devotion and the conclusion of their interchange left him laid bare and wanting. The woman left with honor, salvation, and peace.
It is not the successful religious leader who Luke shows as an example of faith, but the humiliated outcast. It is the choice between proud disdain or reckless devotion. From her disgrace, this woman chose hope. May we be people whose hearts chose that kind of devotion.