Jesus and Food – Anointed by a Prostitute

Jesus and Food – Anointed by a Prostitute

Jesus and Food – Anointed by a Prostitute.

“Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins- and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.’” (Luke 7:44-48).

Please read the story of Jesus and a prostitute at the meal of a Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50.

THE CONTEXT.  a. After preaching and teaching in a city, Jesus was invited to a banquet hosted by Simon the Pharisee. The meal was in Simon’s home. As with most dinners at this time, the doors to the home were open during the meal, and people could wander in and out of the porch areas and remain in the background observing all that went on. One of the uninvited bystanders was the local harlot, ritually impure and an outcast. Unconcerned about being defiled, Jesus welcomed her to Him, and she proceeded to minister to Jesus in somewhat scandalous ways. She obviously knew Jesus from His time in the public setting, and she wanted to show Jesus what He meant to her.

b. Jesus seems to have a soft spot for sexual offenders that religious society deemed worthless, impure, unworthy. For example, he had gracious interactions with the woman at the well (John 4), and with the adulteress about to be stoned (John 8). He was well-versed in the story of Hosea, about his whoring wife, through whom God taught Israel’s infidelity and His infinite compassion. And Jesus knew he had a lady of the night in his family tree, Rahab the harlot in Jericho, a hero from the Hebrew Bible who is mentioned with the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Moses in the epistles of Hebrews and James. Jesus didn’t shun that woman caught in adultery, either. He sweetly forgave her and told her to “sin no more.” Jesus didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with the prostitute’s attentions at Simon’s house. He seemed to love interacting with the untouchables, and the too-touchables, in His ministry. Could it be that those who live with passionate hearts of flesh may be closer to the Kingdom than those religious folk who grimly plod on with hearts of stone? Didn’t Jesus say often enough that great sinners are more likely to see their need for grace than those who view themselves as little sinners who have no need for grace? Maybe that’s why Jesus told the chief priests and elders that the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them. (Matthew 21).

THE WOMAN. She was never named in this scene. We do know that she was a “great sinner,” a prostitute in the city. As such she was ritually unclean, spiritually impure. Anyone who touched her would be defiled, and would have to go through a specific, time-consuming process to be restored to purity. She risked a lot of blatant rejection by appearing at a Pharisee’s house, but she courageously decided to do so. We assume that she had heard Jesus earlier while He was teaching in the city, otherwise she wouldn’t have sought him out. She knew what Jesus was all about, and already responded to His teaching in her heart.

SIMON THE PHARISEE. a. He no doubt heard Jesus in the city as well, and proceeded to invite Jesus to his house for a meal. This is common in the life of a traveling rabbi like Jesus. One isn’t sure what Simon’s motivation was in the invitation. Curiosity? Entrapment? To confirm his worst suspicions about Jesus? To certify that Jesus is not a prophet as advertised?

b. Right from the start, Simon appears disrespectful and inhospitable. He didn’t offer Jesus the common courtesies to a guest. He didn’t offer water to rinse Jesus’ feet. He didn’t welcome Jesus with a customary kiss on the cheek or hands. He didn’t offer some olive oil to anoint Jesus’ head. He did none of that. Simon’s behavior would be considered highly insulting to a guest. Simon offered no special care or affection to his guest. It appears that Simon thought Jesus to be in an inferior class, a part of the riffraff, that didn’t even deserve basic politeness and respect. Throughout the situation, Simon never offered an apology or sense of regret at the way he treated Jesus.

THE WOMAN. a. She was silent throughout. She decided to let her actions speak for her. Upon entering Simon’s home, she went right to Jesus and stood behind Him. Her sense of shame for her past life kept her from approaching His face. She proceeds to kneel at Jesus’ feet as He reclined at the table. She wet His feet with her tears of repentance and gratitude. Then she unloosed her hair and dried his feet with her hair, smothering and caressing his feet with kisses, again and again, and anointed his feet with expensive perfume that she had brought with her. She displayed what Kenneth Bailey said was “an expression of devotion in a sacrament of thanksgiving.”

b. This was a scandalous scene. For a prostitute to even enter the home was outrageous enough, but to do what she had done to Jesus would have caused a scandal of monumental proportions. Jesus didn’t seem to mind.

c. The costly perfume she used with Jesus was a prostitute’s best friend, used to sweeten the breath and perfume the body. Where was this container of perfume used before this scene? In her eyes, nothing but the best for the Teacher, no matter how the perfume was used in the past.

d. Kissing the feet, especially in this overfamiliar way, was highly erotic, highly sensual. Very inappropriate in any public place, no less with Pharisees in full view. This was only done behind closed doors in an intimate setting.

e. Letting her hair down was an intimate gesture that a woman was expected to do only with her husband. Highly inappropriate. A woman could literally be divorced if she let her hair down with another man. This must have shocked all the observers, because it simply wasn’t done, period. It was seen as sexually provocative.

JESUS. He was not put off in the least by the woman’s attentions. It didn’t matter to him that this contact would make Him ritually unclean. It didn’t bother Him that her actions may be the talk of the town or bring unchaste thoughts to the observers. Jesus accepted her acts of repentance and gratitude with open arms, so to speak. Despite the woman’s background, Jesus never shamed her or heaped guilt upon her.

SIMON. He thought he had Jesus pegged now. He can’t be a prophet, look at what He is allowing this notorious sinner to do! Simon, in his self-righteous judgment of her, didn’t accept her obvious repentance. He continued  calling her a “sinner.” Evidently he thought she was unforgivable. Simon didn’t like the idea that a sinner like her could ever repent. So her repentance is not valid in his cold religious opinion.

JESUS. a. After telling Simon the little parable about the two debtors, Jesus helped Simon reach the answer to the story. Which man loved the lender more? Simon says, the man who was forgiven  much. Jesus told him, Yes, you’re right!

b. Jesus then once again does the unexpected. He shocks the observers by praising a sinful woman in the company of righteous men. Jesus made her the hero, the champion. And then He did the unthinkable once again… He complained to Simon about his lack of hospitality. A guest must never, it was said, complain to the host. It might insult or shame the host. So the guest was supposed to take whatever came his way and was thankful for what he got. Simon was no doubt on his heels after Jesus’ rebuke. Jesus placed Himself in the position of authority! How uncouth and pretentious! It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t mind shaming Simon the religious leader, but He never even considered shaming the woman of ill repute.

c. Jesus then says that because she has been forgiven of much, she loves much. And those who think they have sinned little, will then love little. She has been forgiven of many, many sins, so she is very, very grateful. On the other hand, how can you know of grace if you don’t see yourself as a sinner? The more you have sinned, the deeper your love and gratitude for God’s forgiveness.

d. Jesus then confirms that she has indeed been forgiven, and that it was her faith that saved her. Her tender acts of devotion were out of thankfulness for being forgiven before she even entered the house.

e. It looks like Jesus intended his little parable to help the woman be welcomed back into an accepting community as she transforms her life. He wants the others in the city, including the Pharisees, to accept her as Jesus has accepted her, a reformed sinner who needs the loving support of people surrounding her in her new faith.