Luke 7:36–50 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
A Sinful Woman Anoints Jesus' Feet
The story of Jesus' feet being anointed with tears and perfume by a sinful woman is a love story, pure and simple; not some cheap romance or soap-opera love story but one that's so much deeper and heart-felt, one not infused with physical desire. Are you ready to read and evaluate a true love story?
Luke's passage today is similar to another story of Jesus being anointed by a woman; though similar, we must differentiate between both of them to avoid confusion. If we're to understand today's story of Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman, we need to realize that the other story of Jesus' anointing was at Bethany near the end of his ministry. If we confuse the two stories, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is mistakenly thought to be a sinful woman, though that's not at all how she's depicted in the gospels. Please take a quick look at one or all of these gospel accounts now before you read Luke's love story: Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:1–9; John 12:1–10.
Dinner Party Invitation with a Sinful Woman (7:36–37a)
Jesus is invited for dinner by Simon, one of the Pharisees. Where? We're not told, though presumably it's in Galilee where other events in this section took place. The other love story takes place in Bethany (in Judea, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.) A dinner invitation certainly implied respect for Jesus as a new teacher and healer, possibly even a prophet. Simon wanted to learn more about Jesus, but it soon becomes obvious that Simon wasn't a believer.
Hospitality is a very strong value in the Near East; much fuss is made over guests. For example: A water basin would typically be provided so servants could wash the dust of the road from guests' feet; scented olive oil was sometimes offered to anoint a guest's hair (Psalm 23:5b; 45:7; 92:10; Amos 6:6); and beloved guests would be kissed as they were greeted (2 Samuel 15:5; 19:39; Matthew 26:49). We see that Simon offered none of these marks of a gracious host.
The text indicates that Jesus "reclined at the table." This is a characteristically Eastern style of dining, with guests arranged around a very low table, reclining on their left arm and supported by divans or cushions, leaving their right hand free to feed themselves. Their feet, sandals removed, would be splayed out behind them, with space available between walls and their feet to allow servants to bring various dishes to the table.
Verse 37 tells us several things about the woman. Surely, she hasn't been invited. While she's a resident of the town, she's viewed as a sinner. We're not told what her sin is; perhaps she's a prostitute. For her to go to Simon the Pharisee's house for a banquet is surprising. She's viewed as a sinner, one who conveys uncleanness by her very touch. She knows that Simon won't graciously greet her in his house. But the sinful woman has heard of Jesus, probably his teaching, possibly his words of God's love, forgiveness, healing, and restoration. This sinful woman doesn't "slip in late," either. Hearing that Jesus will be there, she gets to the house before he does (v. 45). While still broken, she can see light and feel future hope.
An Anointing with Tears and Perfume (7:37b–39)
Early in the meal there's no focus on the woman. Simon likely feels uncomfortable about her being there, but he doesn't expel her from his home, which would have been an ugly scene; he allows her to remain. But the focus is clearly on Jesus and his words as he partakes of the meal. The woman is standing behind Jesus. Early into the meal she begins to weep tears that fall on Jesus' feet. Each tear likely makes its wet mark in the dust on his feet as she "wet his feet with her tears."
Next she unfastens her hair, removing whatever kerchief she might have worn over it and letting it fall free. Kneeling down she begins to wipe his wet feet with her hair. To be in public with her hair down was considered shameful for women, yet she isn't deterred. Her hair wipes his feet after her tears washed them.
Then she begins to kiss his feet, finally pouring on his feet scented oil from a perfume vial. The imperfect tense of the Greek words translated "wiped," "kissed," and "poured" (NIV) indicate repeated actions. While Jesus has been the center of focus up till now, all eyes turn to the woman kneeling at Jesus' feet, weeping, wiping, caressing his feet with her long black hair, kissing his feet, and pouring perfume upon them. The intimacy of her attentions likely appears shocking to many of the guests. Add to that her community reputation and this is downright scandalous, especially in the eyes of Simon the Pharisee.
Simon acknowledges Jesus as a teacher (v. 40b), but he doubts that Jesus is the prophet that some claim. Simon judges both the sinful woman and Jesus, and is wrong in both his judgments. It's interesting that he doesn't condemn her "touching Jesus" action, but instead Jesus' lack of discernment of who was touching him and her sinful history. Simon possibly thought: He can't be much of a prophet if he misses that!
The Parable of Two Canceled Debts (7:40–43)
But Jesus doesn't let Simon's silent judgment go unchallenged. Because Jesus is probably seated at the place of honor to the right of the host, he turns to Simon at his left and says to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," responds his host. So Jesus begins to tell a story, a parable, to make a point. In this case, he recalls the appreciation one would feel to be absolved of the crushing and fearful load of financial debt to a moneylender, who has the power to throw non-payers into debtor's prison. Please read vv. 41-43 (shown below) now and you'll see how Simon will step into Jesus' trap.
Acts of Honor Demonstrate True Love (7:44–47)
Instead of judging the woman, as Simon has, Jesus aims the judgment instead toward Simon, with three comparisons (vv. 44–46). Jesus compares "Simon's acts as host" to" the sinful woman's acts of love." Jesus' point isn't hard to guess: Simon's actions have shown little love, while the sinful woman has lavished love upon Jesus. Now building upon his brief parable, Jesus turns the focus from love to forgiveness (v. 47). To help Simon and his guests understand and appreciate her actions, Jesus first tells a story about forgiveness, then uses the story to interpret the woman's devotion in terms of forgiveness of sin.
Imagine Simon's reaction to this recital: Anger! It puts him in a bad light, making him appear to be the unenthusiastic host that he is. How could he possibly need forgiveness? He wasn't a sinner!
Your Sins Are Forgiven (7:48–50)
But Jesus doesn't linger on Simon's shortcomings. He now turns to speak directly to the sinful woman. Simon and his guests, however, don't understand his next words of forgiveness. They think that he's absolving her sins there; that troubles them because only God can forgive sins (which similarly concerned the Pharisees when Jesus forgave the paralytic on a mat. (See week 15's Luke 5:21 page.)
But Jesus continues, looking directly at the woman: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." He acknowledges that her faith in his promise has brought her salvation. He also bids her the blessing that Jews offer one another in parting: "Shalom." Not only does that word mean peace — and what wonderful peace and light had now flooded this prostitute's soul — it also means prosperity, wholeness, goodness, and blessing. From one believing Jew to another, Jesus has welcomed this sinful-yet-faithful woman back into the fellowship and salvation of God's family.
It's likely that you can see her face shining, even now. The tears might still flow, but they're flowing through the beauty and glory of the countenance of a child of God, forever changed, lifted, and genuinely loved. Obviously, that was a most excellent dinner party! Amen.
Key Verse "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).
[You can see in Warren's commentary on the Parable of Two Debtors how Luke wrote this parable as a love story that focuses on Jesus’ feet being anointed with tears and perfume by a sinful woman.]
- Q. 1 What was the sinful woman's motive for coming to see Jesus?
- Q. 2 Why did Jesus let her continue, since, by all appearances, what she was doing was scandalous?
New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 7.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Sinful Woman Forgiven."
Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37A 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. 38As 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.
39When 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."
40Jesus 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, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44Then 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. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."
48Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."