Saturday, October 5, 2019

Reflections on The Pardon of the Sinful Woman from Luke 7:36-50

One of the best biblical stories to demonstrate how Jesus acknowledged the dignity of another person is the story of the Sinful Woman from Luke's Gospel. The two main characters who encounter Jesus are the Sinful Woman as well as Simon, the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner . If we look carefully though the title is a bit misleading because the further we get in the story we in fact see that both characters are sinners and Jesus will minister to both of them.

Once the Sinful Woman enters Simon's home we get a glimpse of the intention that both of them have with Jesus. Simon's reaction is one of disgust because as we see in verse 39 he is only focused on what he calls the type of woman that is touching Jesus. Yes, she is a sinner but unfortunately that is all that Simon sees regardless of her actions towards our Lord.

As Luke the evangelist tells us: "Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind Him at His feet weeping and began to bathe His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with ointment" (7:37-38). The woman is completely overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus that she takes on, as stated in Matthew Henry's Commentary, the role of a maidservant when she washes Jesus' feet with her tears. However, it goes beyond that. As she anoints his feet with oil her actions state clearly who Jesus was in front of the Simon, who has already expressed his suspicion of Jesus. In the ancient world, to anoint a person or a thing was to make the person of the object sacred. Kings were anointed to invest them with power as well as those who were consecrated for a holy purpose.

In her action, the Sinful Woman actually gives Jesus all that she had. As William Barclay says, "Round her neck, she wore, like all Jewish women, a little phial of concentrated perfume; they were called alabasters; and they were very costly. She wished to pour it on His feet , for it was all she had to offer. But as she saw Him the tears came and fell upon His feet. For a Jewish woman to appear with her hair unbound was an act of the gravest immodesty. On her wedding day a girl bound up her hair and never would she appear with it unbound again. The fact that this woman loosened her long hair in public showed how she had forgotten everyone except Jesus" (p. 95) 

How did she get to this point? What did she see in Jesus at that moment that led her to act in such a way? What would cause a person to enter someone's home as an uninvited guest that couldn't wait until later?. Further, she had to know how Simon and the others would see her once she made her presence known so what did she see in Jesus that gave her the confidence to act in this way? According to Barclay, "No doubt she had listened to Jesus speak from the edge of the crowd and had glimpsed in Him the hand that could lift her from the mire of her ways (p. 95)."

An interesting thought to add to this is the fact that a Jewish woman would never appear in public with her hair unbound. That would mean that the only man who would see them in this way were their husbands. This could lead us see a deeper image of the Bride of Christ, which we know to be the Church. Take this comment from the website What Every Catholic Should Know:

"The Holy Scriptures state that the Bride of Christ or Body of Christ is comprised of those who are born again into a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).  

The Sinful Woman is certainly a part of the Church and she has not only received Jesus in the most personal way but is offering herself both in action and appearance to our Lord.. This could bring to mind the idea of a woman standing at the altar as she exchanges her wedding vows with her husband. Think of the love and trust that she has for him. This Sinful Woman who Simon saw as an outcast actually recognized the presence of God more than the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner.

We see in the Sinful Woman someone who is certainly born again whose faith helped her acknowledge with her actions the identity of Jesus. This, according to the Collegeville Bible Commentary, displayed the great love that she had before she could show it, which means that she did in fact accept the hand that lifted her out of the mire of her ways as Jesus showed her the dignity she already had as a person before He stated that her sins were forgiven.

In the spirit of a mutual relationship we also see that  Jesus was also moved by her gesture that many could see as awkward and humiliating. Jesus being the One who sees us for who we really are, who also knew what Simon was thinking of the Sinful Woman at the moment of her appearance, also knew the heart and intention of the Sinful Woman during her humble gesture.

Jesus words following her gesture further identified the dignity of this woman that Simon failed to see. While Simon focused on the type of woman she was Jesus says, "Do you see this woman?" (verse 44). The key word here is see as Simon saw everything but the person that the Sinful Woman really was. To Jesus, this woman still had value and was worthy of respect. This should remind us that it was in fact her sins as well as the sins of the rest of humanity that caused the Divine Physician to come and heal the sick (Mark 2:17). One who is ill is in fact suffering and our loving and merciful God would certainly want to show them how to live their life more abundantly (John 10:10.

This story shows us the two opportunities we have as followers of Jesus. We can be like the Sinful Woman and recognize who He is and why He is here for us and go to Him knowing that He will receive us for who we are. Or, we can be like Simon who being a Pharisee certainly knew the tenets of his faith but did not know how to live it out the right way.

Carlos Arthur Solorzano
  • BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach  
  • Certified through the Theology of the Body Institute  
  • Instructor of Theology at St. Augustine Catholic High School 
  • Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate   

  • The New American Bible (footnotes p. 1105)
  • Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke: Revised Edition. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, PA 1975
  • McKenzie, John L. Dictionary of the Bible Macmillan Publishing CO. Inc. Collier Macmillan Publishers London, England 1965 
  • Edited by: Paul J. Achtemeir. Harper's Bible Dictionary Harper San Francisco 1985 
  • Edited by Dianne Bergant & Robert J. Karris. The Collegeville Bible Commentary The Liturgical Press Collegeville, Minnesota 1989 (p. 951) 
  • Edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer & Roland E. Murphy. The Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey (p. 138)
  • Edited by Rev. Leslie F. Church. Matthew Henry's Bible Commentary Zondervan Publishing House in Grand Rapids, Michigan1961 (p. 1436)