COMMUNICATION 07 - Jesus' style communication: A sinful woman anointing him
Every gospel has a story of a woman anointing Jesus:
Galilee, last mentioned city: Nain
Simon the Leper’s
Simon the Leper’s
Simon the Pharisee
Home of Lazarus, Martha, Mary
Jesus, disciples, Simon, others
Jesus, disciples, Simon, others
Jesus, disciples, friends, others
A woman who was a sinner
Alabaster jar of very costly ointment
Alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard
Alabaster jar of ointment.
Pound of costly perfume made of pure nard
Poured on Jesus’ head
Poured on Jesus’ head
Weeping, wiping feet, drying with hair, anointing feet
Anointed Jesus’ feet, wiped them with hair, house filled with fragrance
Why wasted in this way? Why not sold for 300 denarii?
If Jesus is a prophet, why does he not know she is a sinner & forbid her?
Why not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor
Some were there
Simon the Pharisee
Sold for large sum > money to the poor
Why not sold for 300 denarii > money given to poor
Who is this who forgives sins?
Sold for 300 denarii > money given to poor
Why do you trouble her? performed a good service
Why scold her?
Simon’s limited hospitality, woman’s total abandonment
Leave her alone. She bought it for my burial
Poor always with you, but not me > prepared my body for burial
Poor always with you, she anointed me beforehand for burial
Parable of creditors > those forgiven little love little
Poor always with you
her story will be told
her story will be told
- If compared carefully it becomes clear that there were two anointings, one by a sinful woman in a Pharisee’s house somewhere in Galilee (Luke), and one in Bethany shortly before Jesus’ death (Matthew, Mark, John).
- The main issue is quite different in the two accounts: In Luke the objection is with Jesus tolerating touch by a sinful woman. Jesus’ answer challenges the Pharisee’s self-righteousness. With the Bethany anointing the objection is about waste, Jesus answer values the woman’s deed as preparation for his coming death.
Following only the Galilee anointing described by Luke will be looked at:
A sinful woman anoints Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee Luke 7:36-50
- Context: Jesus, during the earlier part of his ministry, is teaching and healing in Galilee. Already he has done significant miracles, most notably he just shortly ago raised a young men from the dead in Nain.
- Already some local Pharisees have been hopeful enough to carefully listen to Jesus, but they are offended at Jesus’ casual attitude about the Sabbath and his un-concernedness with what is considered a ‘pious life-style’ and ‘necessary distancing from the ungodly’.
“36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.”
- Why does the Pharisee, invite Jesus to dinner? Is it curiosity? Is he a more progressive and open Pharisee? Does he take pride in his open mind and straight-forward approach? Is he concerned but wants ‘to give Jesus a chance’? Is he casual and wants to check out Jesus, thinking himself well up to the challenge?
- We are not sure. What is clear that – unlike many others – he does invite Jesus, but also that he does leave out some ‘common kindnesses’ for a truly honored guest (Luk 7:44-46). It also seems the event is widely known to happen (Luk 7:37), unlike Pharisee Nicodemus’ visit by night (Jhn 3:2).
“37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
- “sinner” would have meant a known, immoral woman, a prostitute or an adulteress.
- The fact that she remains a known figure in the city is probably showing that she is not destitute (for example she owns expensive perfume), but known to be ‘bad’, and – whether by her choice or not – is probably somewhat of a ‘brazen’ person.
- Whether she got into this state through a fault of her own or not is not a question anybody is concerned with, least the Pharisee.
- It also seems this woman has already encountered Jesus before, has experienced maybe a healing, an exorcism, a teaching that gave her hope, a grace offered, a treatment with dignity by Jesus that touched her heart. Jesus interprets her act of anointing basically as one of thankfulness for forgiveness received (Luk 7:47).
- Jesus reassures her that she is both forgiven and saved (Luk 7:48, 50).
- It would have taken courage for a ‘brazen sinner’ to enter a Pharisees’ house, as the Pharisees’ hostile attitude, distancing himself and attempting not to be polluted by the likes of her were well known. She comes anyway.
- Is she so touched, she simply doesn’t care what anyone says? Has the acceptance and dignity Jesus bestowed on her already done a liberating work in her, resulting in increased confidence?
- Her act is lavish, abandoned, wasteful. The ointment probably represented the better part of her savings, even her future security.
- Her weeping, touching and kissing of the feet, loose hair and wiping of his feet with her hair all are nowhere near appropriate, it’s intimate, it’s unprecedented.
- The fact that she does ‘her treatment’ to Jesus’ feet speaks of her all-out motivation to honor him. Reclining beds for meals were common, the feet would have been the most accessible part coming up from behind.
- The kind of action probably indicates her ‘loose life’, she tries to please him in the best way she knows, even though that is far from appropriate. She also seems confident that she will not be rejected.
“39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have knows who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”
- A Pharisee, trained to keep holy by disassociation with evil, is probably first embarrassed at the scene (in his house!), then – seeing Jesus’ non-reaction – his attitude turns to disdain for the supposed-pious ‘prophet-teacher’.
- “Prophet” was one of the titles people gave Jesus frequently. Simon expects a prophet to understand what is happening, fair enough. Actually, nobody has to be a prophet to figure out that this woman is not of the respectable kind.
- Thinking her ‘a sinner to shun’ is common Pharisaical thinking. ‘Sinner’ is not an inaccurate title. But what is inaccurate is the ‘distancing himself’, the thought: ‘I’m not like that’, the self-righteousness implied in this.
- Simon has made his conclusions about this ‘teacher-prophet’: Jesus is not godly, not even wise and definitely not keeping himself pure. By now Simon probably is sorry, even embarrassed, that he ever was fool enough to invite Jesus.
- A question aside: how does Luke know what Simon thought but never spoke?
- Maybe this is what all Pharisees thought, so no surprise. But maybe Simon later became a believer and shared his part in the story with the church. Acts tells us that many priests (Acts 6:7) and at least some Pharisees (Acts 15:5) became believers and joined the church.
“40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher, “he replied, “speak”
- Just when Simon has written off the evening completely and has no more interest to hear anything of this Jesus, Jesus addresses him, politely but deliberately.
- It is Jesus who opens communication, only now that Simon has given up on him.
- Jesus addresses thoughts that have not even been voiced, which challenges Simon’s internal conclusion that Jesus is not a prophet. How then would he know?
“41 A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them, Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
- Jesus uses a parable. When ‘walls are up’ and ‘doors closed’, he uses a story to get behind the walls & doors and reach the heart and mind.
- The parable is painfully simple, a contrast between two people, clearly addressing the current situation at the Pharisee’s house.
- Jesus forces Simon to engage, to answer, to judge. Simon’s answer has a tone of annoyance ‘I suppose’. Simon doesn’t like what he hears, he doesn’t like what he has to answer. He doesn’t want to be addressed like that, by a person like that.
- What is Jesus’ point? Those who are forgiven more, love more. But really, is a 500 or a 50 denarii debt so very different? Both owe, both can’t pay, both are forgiven.
- Jesus challenges Simon’s distancing of himself from the woman, the ease with which he judges her (and Jesus), the self-righteousness, the smugness with which he thinks himself so very different.
- But Jesus is not done. After this uncomfortable little parable he talks straight:
“44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.”
- Jesus, though fully acknowledging the woman’s bad past (“her sins, which were many”), he turns towards, affirms and even praises the woman for her love, her gratefulness, her wholeheartedness, her abandon.
- She has met Jesus, she has met grace, she has responded fully and has been changed for ever. The past tense is significant: “sins were many”, not ‘are many’.
- This bites: Pharisees taught the law and morality to their contemporaries precisely because they hoped to change people to become god-fearing and obedient to law.
- Here a life is completely changed, and Simon finds himself resenting it. Jesus does successfully what Simon and the Pharisees in general aren’t able to do.
- Simon has also met Jesus, but has not really honored him, has smugly judged him and written him off. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t responded well, and still isn’t.
- “The one to whom little is forgiven loves little” is probably ironic, Jesus is precisely challenging this attitude in Simon: Simon is equally if not more sinful than the woman, and though from a pious walk of life, he has responded poorly to Jesus because of his self-righteousness.
- Jesus directly challenges Simon’s skimpy hospitality, or the attitude behind it: self-importance, dishonor for Jesus. He embarrasses his host publicly. For a guest to speak so straight would be a scandal. Jesus is risking creating a serious enemy.
“48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
- Jesus, knowing he has offended them already makes ‘things worse’ by assuring the woman again that she is forgiven and accepted, claiming the authority to forgive.
- Jesus doesn’t even attempt to appease or be diplomatic. Not surprisingly this brings on immediate reactions (as it did in the case of healing the paralytic Mrk 2:7)
- Talk about a successful, comfortable, cozy dinner engagement!
- Jesus would rather risk his reputation and enemies than not to affirm this woman.
- Jesus would rather offend Simon in the hope of making him think than shutting up.
- Jesus would rather offend people than leave them in their wrong thinking and attitudes