Having dealt with that transition, it’s now possible to move on to an examination of Jesus at a meal at the house of a Pharisee. At this particular meal, Luke reports that “a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house,” and that “she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil” (Luke 7:37) to this house. Jesus, of course, was in the customary reclined position on the dining couch, with His feet away from the table, and this woman “As she stood behind Him at His feet, weeping… began to wet His feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil” (7:38).
At first glance, this may seem to be a repetitive presentation, as this study has already encountered a similar story of perfumed anointing in an examination of the meals of Matthew and Mark. However, this is clearly a different function and a different woman, with this event taking place well ahead of the anointing story chronicled in Mark and Matthew. As a matter of fact, Luke omits the particular anointing story found in Matthew and Mark, providing this one instead.
There are a lot of very interesting things that could be said concerning what this woman is reported to have done. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, and wipes His feet with her hair (7:38). Jesus calls attention to this when He speaks to the Pharisee, pointing out the fact that she is now doing that which the Pharisee had failed to do when Jesus entered his house, which was wash Jesus’ feet (7:45). One need not dwell too long on this one point, but for a woman to take her hair down and to use it in this way would bring much reproach.
Clearly, this woman is unconcerned with the reproach and shame that she is bringing on herself, and is only concerned with honoring Jesus and making up for the dishonor that was extended to Him when He did not receive the customary foot-washing. She is more than willing to take shame upon herself so that the one that she obviously looks to as Lord might be honored, which is a cruciform expression of love.
In addition, she was said to have kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with oil (7:38), whereas Jesus did not receive this courtesy from His host (7:46). Though Jesus saw these acts as expressions of love, the Pharisee looked upon them quite differently, saying to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (7:39). As Jesus was quite familiar with the responses that He received in association with His dining with “tax collectors and sinners,” one can imagine that He was sensitive to the demeanor of His host.
Being obviously aware of what was being thought of Him, Jesus proffers a short parable to the Pharisee, posing a question concerning the forgiveness of debts, to which the Pharisee is said to have responded correctly. It is upon receiving an appropriate response that Jesus turns the tables on the one that had been subjecting Him to such critical thoughts. When He calls attention to her acts, not only does Jesus honor this woman, but in the process, He shames the negligent Pharisee. The Pharisee had sought to shame Jesus and the woman, but Jesus reverses the situation.