Last week as I prepared to preach on Jesus’ first parable, I was struck by few things I saw in the text found in Luke 7:36-50. In this passage, while Jesus was having a meal in the home of a Pharisee, a woman described as a “sinner” did something unusual.
I think it is safe to say that with the culture of the time and based on Simon the Pharisee’s comment about what kind of woman she was, that the woman was in fact a prostitute. Yet, from this passage, we see a much different response to Jesus. Simon failed to even provide someone to wash Jesus’ feet when he entered the home, but the prostitute went out of her way, risking being forcibly removed and shamed, and did what can only be considered an act of worship by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with expensive perfume that cost the equivalent of 300 days of wages. This passage leaves me with questions.
What did Jesus do to elicit this act of worship from this woman? Was it his teaching? Did he answer a question she asked? Did he tell one of the disciples to give her bread? Did he make eye-contact, ask her name on the street, say God be with you, or did she see him treat Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and his own mother with the respect and care that no other Rabbi in their culture had?
Sadly, all we see in the text is the irony of Simon’s response. Washing a house guest’s feet was generally a job given to a household servant. It was a job given to the lowest servant and was generally considered something demeaning for a free person, family member, or a student of a rabbi. If there was no servant low enough to provide washing of feet, a person would wash their own feet because you would not allow a fellow Jew do such a demeaning task.
But, Simon showed us how low they considered this woman. He did not question whether it was demeaning to allow this prostitute to do the work of the lowest gentile household servant or slave. Simon found it offensive that this woman, this prostitute, would perform this act of worship and that Jesus would allow it. By his words, Simon reveals that he would not have thought it inappropriate for a woman to be so moved emotionally, as this woman was, by Jesus teachings and ministry. If the woman was not as the text called her, a sinner, the conversation might have been about what he had done to elicit such as powerful emotional response.
The greater irony is knowing that in both the Old and New Testament, worship is inseparable from humility and repentance from sin. For Simon, it should have been obvious that this “sinner’s” action was exactly what a religious leader wanted to see happen. Rather than continuing in sin, she went out of her way and facing more shame to perform this act of worship on who is most likely the only man who did not look on her with disgust.
What’s more incredible is that Simon missed the fact that this prostitute approached Jesus in an act of worship instead of an offer of sex in exchange for money. Her behavior towards Jesus may be described as unusual or surprising, but there was nothing inappropriate in the way she showed her affection and worship towards Jesus.
So, why did Simon, a religious leader, not understand that this woman’s actions were a perfect opportunity to help her leave her chosen profession and begin living a life honoring to God? Even better, it was an opportunity to rescue a person from a life and profession that any decent father sacrifice his own life to protect his daughter from.