Jesus accepted an invitation to share a meal in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Possibly because of having heard or witnessed Jesus’ miracles, Simon’s curiosity about this “rabbi” of Galilee had been aroused and he wanted an opportunity to interact with him personally. As on other occasions, Jesus would primarily have been concerned about the spiritual well-being of those with whom he chose to associate. (Luke 7:36)
According to the arrangement for serving meals at that time, couches would have been positioned around three sides of a table, with the remaining side providing access for servants to bring in the food. While reclining on the couches, the host and the guests would not be wearing their sandals. Supporting themselves on the left arm, those eating would partake of the food with their right hand.
The account does not say whether those in Simon’s home were eating in the courtyard or in a room adjacent thereto. Uninvited persons would have had access to the courtyard, and it was customary for people to go to homes where rabbis had been invited in order to learn from them.
A woman in the city who had the reputation of being a sinner, possibly a prostitute, heard the news that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s home. She doubtless had heard Jesus speak and may even have witnessed his miracles. It appears that, based on what she had heard or seen, she had been moved to make changes in her life and came to appreciate and love Jesus for what he had done for her. Confident that he would not turn her away, she took an alabaster jar filled with myrrh or perfumed ointment and headed for Simon’s house. (Luke 7:37) As a woman with an unsavory reputation, she knew that she would not be a welcome sight, but her love for Jesus and her trust in him prompted her to go where she would not be wanted.
Upon arriving at the house, she stood behind Jesus, at his feet. Emotionally moved by his spirit of love and compassion, she began to weep, and her tears fell upon his feet. She then wiped his feet dry with her long hair, continued kissing them, and poured upon them the perfumed ointment she had brought along. (Luke 7:38) Observing this, Simon reasoned that Jesus could not be a prophet, for a prophet would have known the kind of sinful woman who was touching him. (Luke 7:39)
Discerning Simon’s reaction, Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” replied Simon, “speak.” Jesus then told about two debtors, one owing 500 denarii (the denarius being the usual daily wage for a worker) and the other 50 to the same creditor. Neither debtor was able to repay the amount owed, and the creditor kindly canceled their debts. Jesus then asked Simon, “Which one of them will love him more?” Simon concluded that it would be the one who had the greater debt. (Luke 7:40-43)
Jesus acknowledged, “Rightly you have judged.” Applying the point of his parable about the two debtors, Jesus turned toward the woman and directed his words to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, [and] you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, wet my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she, from the time I came, did not stop kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfumed ointment.” (Luke 7:43-46)
Simon had not extended to Jesus the customary gestures of hospitality, which included making provision for washing the guest’s feet, greeting him with a kiss, and applying olive oil to the exposed areas of his head. In expression of her love and appreciation, however, the woman had done everything Simon had neglected to do.
Because of the way she had responded to him, Jesus continued, “Her sins, though many, are forgiven because she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” To the woman, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those reclining at the table, however, reacted negatively, reasoning within themselves, “Who is this who can even forgive sins?” Jesus next words to her revealed why she gained forgiveness, reassuringly he said to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:47-50) The basis for forgiveness is faith or trust in Jesus, and the woman had demonstrated that she had genuine faith and love. Therefore, she could depart in peace, free from the burden of guilt for past sins.