One of the most significant ways that we receive God’s generosity is through the gift of forgiveness. Jesus demonstrated the nature and extent of that forgiveness in this story. The woman sought Jesus because she recognized who he was, the Messiah. Church father Augustine (354–430) says that
she knew that he to whom she had come was able to make her whole; she approached then, not to the head of the Lord, but to his feet; and she who had walked long in evil, sought now the steps of uprightness. First she shed tears, the heart’s blood; and washed the Lord’s feet with the duty of confession. She wiped them with her hair, she kissed, she anointed them: she spake by her silence; she uttered not a word, but she manifested her devotion.
Simon, Jesus’ host, observed Jesus’ acceptance of the woman’s ministrations and thought that this proved Jesus was not a prophet. Ironically, Jesus read his thoughts. Augustine clarifies this passage:
Let now the Pharisee understand even by this, whether he was not able to see her sins, who could hear his thoughts. So then he put forth to the man a parable concerning two men, who owed to the same creditor. For he was desirous to heal the Pharisee also, that he might not eat bread at his house for nought; he hungered after him who was feeding him, he wished to reform him, to slay, to eat him, to pass him over into his own body.
So Jesus related to Simon the short parable, and Simon was forced to acknowledge that the one who has been forgiven most loves most. Jesus pointed out to Simon how little love he had shown for Jesus. He had not washed his feet, as was appropriate for an honored guest, nor had he anointed him, and he did not realize who Jesus was; he did not even acknowledge Jesus as a prophet. Moreover, Simon did not recognize that he was in need of a savior, that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Ro 3:10). Augustine says,
O Pharisee, therefore dost thou love but little, because thou dost fondly think that but little is forgiven thee; not because little really is forgiven thee, but because thou thinkest that that which is forgiven is but little.
The woman, however, knew that she was a sinner, and she had faith that Jesus could forgive her. Even if Simon the Pharisee was a good, upstanding person with much less to forgive than the woman, this passage only serves to emphasize the fact that the Christian who begrudges God’s generosity to the outcast is in great need of forgiveness. It was the woman, not the “clean” Pharisee, who went away with Jesus’ forgiveness and Jesus’ blessing, “Go in peace” (Lk 7:50).
Lord, I turn to you in repentance and faith. Forgive me, cleanse me and give me peace.