13 June 2010

Luke 7:36 - 8:3

"Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (7:50)


Jesus is the invited guest of Simon the Pharisee (a Jewish leader) at a meal which has been interrupted by the appearance of a woman described as a "sinner". The Gospel-writer Luke places the story immediately after the eulogy to John the Baptist (Luke 7:24-35) and there is some agreement that Luke deliberately infers she had been affected by John's ministry. Assuming that to be the case her manner is one of gratitude rather than dire penitence. She comes in unobtrusively, apparently taking the opportunity to approach Jesus while at the home of a significant figure. Was her presence a scandal to Simon, or did she come because this was known territory for her?

Jesus is reclining at the table, leaning in such a way that his right hand could reach for food, with his head and shoulders to the low table. His legs would be stretched out behind him. The woman brings with her a jar of precious anointing oil fit for the head of a king. She only has access to his feet and, standing, she bows to anoint and wipe his feet with her hair. The tears are not of sorrow but of grateful affection.

Whatever her past life we are not given a clue here, although many commentators paint this "woman in the city" as a prostitute and relate her to Mary of Magdala or to Mary the sister of Lazarus (John 12:1-8).

The parable told by Jesus and to which Simon responds cautiously - he suspects a trap - is one in which the gratitude is in proportion to the grace received. In Jesus' explanation the woman is elevated from intruder to host at the meal. Simon had been a perfectly correct host but she had made a profound expression of love and gratitude for the forgiveness she has received. The introduction to John's Baptism points her to find faith with its focus in Jesus and his teaching. Her persistence and adoration is profoundly rewarded: "Go in peace".

To Ponder

How do we treat those who 'intrude' into our worship and events?

Where are you at this meal? Scandalised that those we know as sinners are so overwhelmingly welcomed by Jesus? Observing? Or maybe weeping with gratitude? What are your thoughts and feelings about what is taking place?

Our devotion may be 'perfectly correct' but is it deeply grateful in the extravagant way that we see here? How does the extravagance of grace affect you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Howard Mellor

Howard Mellor is a Methodist presbyter. Together with his wife Rosie they are currently serving as Mission Partners in Hong Kong.