A woman who lived a sinful life in that city found out that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she took a bottle of perfume and knelt at his feet. She was crying and washed his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them over and over again, and poured the perfume on them. [Luke 7:37-38 (GW)]
I looked down at the floor and saw seven pairs of shoes piled by the door; they’d been removed in an effort to keep from tracking mud throughout the house. When visiting, we may leave our footwear in the foyer, but I doubt any of us expect the host to wash our feet. Back in Biblical times, however, the story was quite different. No one wore socks and the shoes and sandals bore little resemblance to the Nikes, Tevas, and Keens of today. Between the dusty roads and the oxen, horse, donkey and camel droppings on them, people’s feet were filthy. A good host always offered water so a guest could wash his own feet. If the host was rich enough, a servant did the washing. Both Abraham and Lot offered foot washing to their heavenly visitors and Jesus humbled himself enough to wash the feet of his disciples. Washing feet, however, was more than just a common courtesy; it also showed acceptance of the guest and the absence of any hostility on the part of the host. Anointing one’s guests with oil was another act of hospitality and respect. The most intimate form of greeting was an embrace and a kiss, the way Laban greeted Jacob and Jonathon and David greeted one another.
Simon the Pharisee, however, was not a gracious host and violated the customs of hospitality. Although he invited Jesus to dinner, he offered no foot washing, oil or embrace. Perhaps his motives for the invitation weren’t to learn more about Jesus but rather to demean Him. Even if Jesus had been a mere man, Simon’s behavior was inexcusable. Jesus, however, was the Son of God. Simon had the Messiah in his house and affronted him in the most disrespectful and offensive way possible.
The Pharisee’s dinner party was disrupted by an unexpected and uninvited guest—an unnamed woman who had “lived a sinful life.” Hers must have been a rather notorious life since Simon knew her reputation. It was this woman, a woman with a sinful past, who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed him with her perfume, and kissed him. The woman who knew she was a sinner demonstrated her love and faith in Jesus. The Pharisee, unwilling to recognize and admit his sinfulness, was unable to recognize Jesus as God. What an extraordinary contrast—the sinner who welcomed and honored Jesus and was forgiven in comparison to the self-righteous Pharisee, blind to his own sins, who disrespected Jesus and was not.
The unnamed sinful woman performed an unselfish act of worship, pouring out her most precious possession and offering both her tears and love. Perhaps it is no mistake that her name is not recorded. Without an identity, she represents each and every one of us. When any of us come to Jesus as humble and repentant sinners, He will welcome us as graciously as He welcomed her and He will forgive us as generously as He forgave her.
If you could see what I once was, If you could go with me
Back to where I started from Then I know you would see.
A miracle of love that took me In its sweet embrace
And made me what I am today, Just an old sinner… saved by grace.
[Sinner Saved by Grace (Mitch Humphries, William and Gloria Gaither)]