The woman is never identified by name. She doesn’t speak a word.
She is simply referred to as, “a woman in the city, who was a sinner.”
While the exact nature of her sin is never explicitly stated, it has generally been assumed that it was, “notorious sexual activity, prostitution”.[i]
The narrative does not provide specifics about the exact timing and location of the dinner party. It can only be inferred that the dinner occurred sometime, “during his ministry up north in Galilee”.[ii]
The man’s name is provided. But exactly which Simon he was remains unclear because the name Simon was, “as common in the ancient world as ‘Smith’ is in our phone book”.[iii]
None of the guests who are attending the banquet are named. They are simply referred to as, “those who were at the table.”
The crowd of onlookers, who would have likely entered into the open courtyard to listen to the Teacher and guests’ discourse, are not even referenced.[iv]
Jesus is the only person specifically identified in the passage entitled, “A Sinful Woman Forgiven” (Luke 7:36-50).
While there is such depth and breadth of meaning to be drawn from this passage, a primary focus has historically been on the, “emotional extravagance of the woman’s actions.”[v] This stems from most traditional interpretations that have tended to focus on the fact that she was a woman, sinner, and social outcast who unreservedly engaged in passionate, excessive behaviour.
Somewhat less focused on is how her courageous actions embodied love.
Intent on reaching Jesus, she had bravely pushed past the on-lookers. She did not acknowledge the crowd, the guests, or the self-righteous host, some of whom may very well have been her former lovers.[vi]
Love, and her yearning to worship Jesus, far outweighed the disdain and rejection of those in the room.
As she kneeled down by Jesus, she openly wept. She washed His feet with her tears, gently dried them with her unbound hair, kissed them, and then anointed them with expensive oil. Her gratitude for His forgiveness overwhelmed her.
Simon, who prided himself as being righteous and without sin, was critical of both the woman and her demonstrative behaviour. After all, she was widely known throughout the community as being immoral and impure.
As Simon watched he, “silently impugns the woman’s character and questions Jesus” and condemned Him for allowing the unclean woman to touch Him.[vii]
Convicted, Simon concluded that, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
Simon remained fixated on her past behaviour.
Jesus perceived the state of her heart.
“Jesus receives her ministrations and recognizes them as indicative of a profoundly altered attitude. Her act of devotion represents her best effort to express her newly awakened response to God’s grace. Whether her past actions have been the result of lust, need, manipulation or defiance, she has been transformed by the power of divine love.”[viii]
Jesus celebrated her transformation, how her love flowed out of a profound gratitude.
As He turned to face her, He “claims that because of her great love, her many sins are forgiven.”[ix]
In contrast, Jesus perceived the state of Simon’s heart – a heart overflowing with the sins of self-righteousness, criticism, and condemnation.
He confronts Simon about his lack of genuine hospitality and grace, and condemns his judgmental stance.[x] But Simon remains unrepentant, and unforgiven.
In the end, the narrative reveals that, “love, is both the cause and result or sign of divine forgiveness. The woman embodies that love”[xi]
So one wonders. Which of the characters in this narrative – an onlooker, invited guest, Simon, the woman, or Jesus – are you and I most alike.
Honestly, I see a bit of my self in each of them.
I can be an onlooker. Silent. Watching.
I can be one of the inner group, an invited guest. Also silent. Also watching.
I can be Simon. A self-righteous sinner, who can be quick to criticize and judge others. Who can struggle to offer and hold sufficient grace and forgiveness. Often lacking in sincere repentance. And so distracted by my own thoughts and sin, that I can also miss seeing Jesus, even when He is right in front of me.
I am the woman. Also a sinner. But a sinner whose heart is being transformed by Jesus’ amazing love. So overwhelmed by His love that I too can weep for the pure joy of it. My heart bursting wide open with thanksgiving and praise as His lavish grace shines into and through me.
And I’d like to think that there are moments – where I find the courage to love like the sinful woman forgiven – that I also embody Jesus’ divine love.
Photo credits: Rubens’ Feast of Simon the Pharisee
Hanny Naibah, Woman hands up lifted, Unsplash
[i] Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley. Womens Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 374.
[ii] Ibid, 374.
[iii] Robert Deffinbaugh. “Wordless Worship of an Unnamed Woman (Luke 7:36-50).” Bible.org23 (June 22, 2004). Accessed October 09, 2018. https://bible.org/seriespage/23-wordless-worship-unnamed-woman-luke-736-5., 1.
[iv] Ibid, 1.
[v] Newsom, et al, 505.
[vi] Catherine Clark Kroeger & Mary J. Evans (Eds.). The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2002, 570.
[vii] Carol Meyers, Toni Craven, and Ross S. Kraemer (Eds.) Women in scripture: A dictionary of named and unnamed women in the Hebrew Bible, the apocryphal / deuterocanonical books and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2000, 440.
[viii] Kroeger, 570.
[ix] Meyers, et al, 440.
[x] Kroeger, 570.
[xi] Newsom, et al., 505.