Her character: She was a notorious sinner, possibly a prostitute or adulteress. Rather than trying to defend what was indefensible in her life, she admitted her sin and made a spectacle of herself in a passionate display of love and gratitude.
Her sorrow: That she had offended God so grievously.
Her joy: That Jesus forgave her sins and commended her for her great faith and love.
Key Scriptures: Luke 7:36-50
The woman felt as though the world had unraveled in a moment's time. Doors had opened, walls had crumbled, thoughts of the future no longer frightened but thrilled her. She felt clean and whole, innocent as a girl still living in her father's house. Her heart was a wild confusion of sorrow and joy as she followed the rabbi through the doorway.
Ignoring the stares of the men, she walked over to the place where Jesus was reclining at a table. In her hands she held an alabaster jar of perfume. Her body trembled as she approached. She hardly knew what she was doing as she covered his feet with her kisses and then anointed them with the precious perfume, wiping his feet with her hair. How else could she express her heart to the man who had loved her so well?
Like any good Pharisee, Simon loved the law, measuring his days by the steady rhythm of the regulations by which he lived. They were a fence safeguarding his purity, protecting his sense of settled security. How good of the holy God to provide a map for the righteous, a way of life to set him apart from ordinary Jews—like the woman who had just walked through the door, hoping to glean a few scraps from his table.
Simon was surprised that a sinful woman, even a hungry one, would enter his house. But his surprise grew as he noticed she was not eating but weeping so profusely that her tears were spilling onto the feet of one of his guests. Everything about the scene repelled him, offending his sense of order—a notorious harlot kissing the man's feet, wiping them with her hair, and then pouring perfume over them. It was an astonishing performance.
Even more astonishing was the fact that his guest seemed to enjoy the attention. "If this man were a prophet," Simon thought, "he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." All of his questions about Jesus were put to rest by the scene he had just witnessed. His ordered way of looking at the world was safe enough, bolstered by the judgment he had just made.
As though he had overheard Simon's secret thoughts, Jesus turned and spoke to him. "Simon, I have something to tell you.
"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?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "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. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Though this woman was a notorious sinner, she recognized her great need for grace. Repentance turned her world on its head, opening up an entirely new view of things. Simon, by contrast, was a religious man who, no doubt, had done his best to live a respectable life. His sin was tucked away, hidden even from himself. His habit of judging others had formed a fence around his one-dimensional view of the universe, shielding his neat and orderly life from the unpredictable power of grace.
But Simon and the woman both owed a debt they could not possibly repay. Though Simon's sin was less obvious, it was the more dangerous. He was like a man who was following a map he was certain would lead to heaven—but when heaven came down and walked into his house, he didn't even know it. The woman, on the other hand, realized just how lost she had been. Forgiven much, she loved much. She found heaven at the feet of Jesus.
Let's be honest. Many of us would respond to this sinful woman just as the Pharisee did. It's so easy to look more with judgment than love at people whose lives have been devastated by sin. But Jesus looked at her and at Simon and saw the same thing: their need for forgiveness. And he gave it freely. We don't know what Simon's response to Jesus was, but the woman's response is evident in her tears and kisses.
This story isn't included in Scripture just so we can see the forgiveness given to one sinful woman; it's included so we can know that no matter how sinful, how broken, how entrenched in error we might be, forgiveness is available if only we seek it in faith—he's promised.