The setting was well-to-do. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dine with him (Luke 7:36-50). This is a banquet setting with the meal served on a low table with mats or couches surrounding it. The guests reclined at table with their legs extended behind them.
Into such a formal occasion comes a woman who cries at the end of Jesus’ couch. Would you notice a woman crying in a banquet hall? Surely all eyes were upon her. This is no silent weeping. As Frederick Danker notes about the word used, “‘express grief or sorrow aloud’ (not a silent dropping of tears or weeping…).* She “rains down” tears upon Jesus’ feet. Not just moist eyes, but the kind of crying we usually describe as uncontrolled. And she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with a fragrant ointment. Not only can you not notice the crying, but the aroma of ointment sweeps through the room.
Simon thinks to himself, “If he really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him.” With condescension Simon manages to hit two people with one mental stone.
Jesus tells Simon a story that lays bare Simon’s own heart. A money lender has two debtors. One owes 500 day’s wages and another 50, but the money lender forgives both debts because neither had the ability to repay what was owed. So Jesus has a question for Simon, “Which of them will love him more.” We can hear the reluctance in Simon’s “I suppose,” but his answer was correct: “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
If people felt uncomfortable by such unusual proceedings, the discomfort level is raised by Jesus’ pointed comparison. Simon didn’t give Jesus water with which to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil for his head. This would have been typical hospitality in the ancient world. The woman had washed Jesus’ feet with tears, kissed them, and anointed them with fragrant oil.
As I mentally enter this scene, two thoughts strike me. First, Jesus came to save sinners not just the Simon type of sinners, people who have it together morally and have a good reputation. But he came to save those like the sinful woman whose reputation for being quite undone preceded her. I need to remember that encountering Jesus can transform lives.
Second, Simon doesn’t understand the depth of his own need for grace. How can any of us love little when we grasp the ugliness of sin. All sins, even the ones done by “respectable people,” nailed Jesus to the cross! If I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love, my response in return should be gratitude and love, and that love should motivate me to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. The challenge of the story is: how much do I love?
*S.v. κλαίω, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testatment, p. 201.