36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 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. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
In the above passage from Luke 7, Jesus is having dinner with one of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the most learned about the Jewish law and the most careful about keeping every last bit of the law. Unfortunately, some of them had become so focused on the letter of the law, that they had completely lost the spirit of the law (to love each other). Jesus had his harshest words for the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day.
During (maybe after or even before – the text doesn’t say) the meal, a woman who was apparently known in the town for being a sinner came into the room and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and anoint them with a precious ointment.
Who was this woman? Well, Simon knew enough about her to know that she was a “sinner”. Was she a prostitute? Perhaps. Maybe she was known for dealing unfairly with people in the marketplace. Maybe she had a child without being married. There are all kinds of things that could mark her as being a sinner. And everyone apparently knew she was a sinner. She certainly did. When she came to Jesus, this great teacher, she didn’t come to him for teaching or to talk to him as any kind of social equal. She came in tears. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that they stem from her knowing her place in that society and how she feels about it.
And then she washed Jesus’ feet. In our culture, this is pretty creepy. At least, it is if you aren’t paying someone for a pedicure. We wear shoes and don’t have perpetually dirty feet. But in that culture, it was the job of a servant to wash someone’s feet. And it must have been especially nice for Jesus to also have a nice smelling ointment on his feet since he walked around all day in the dust.
What really struck me in this passage, though, is that Jesus tells her “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Washing Jesus’ feet was a nice thing, but it’s main effect was to show her faith. She wasn’t forgiven of her sins because she washed Jesus’ feet. She was forgiven because of God’s grace. It was there no matter what. But, this “sinner” woman (like any of us are any better) took hold of that grace through faith. And Jesus knew of her faith. Faith doesn’t just sit inside of us. It comes out somehow. In this case, the woman washed Jesus’ feet – the evidence of her faith. This was her version of accepting that gift of grace.
Every day, we have the chance to act in faith. Grace has already purchased out eternal life, but grace is also making us more holy every minute of every day. Every time that I choose to act in a way that puts others first, I have acted in faith.
My word for this year is Walk. The woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet reminds me to walk every day in faith, knowing that God’s grace (unearned favor) is always there. Here is another reminder to get up every day and walk with my savior.
P.S. James 2 has a good discussion on the role of faith and works in the life of a Christian.