This is such a well-known story. It’s a vivid picture – a woman of questionable reputation gate-crashes a private dinner, weeping all over the guest’s feet, then she dried them with her hair. That would have been quite a sight – her hair must have been really long!
And then she pours sweet-smelling ointment from an expensive jar all over Jesus’ feet! Now, this sort of thing would be very strange in today’s context. It’s certainly not regular mealtime behaviour. But in first-century Palestine, when a guest arrived, the servants would attend to him during the appetizers of the meal. They would offer water and perfumed oil, so that the guest would be comfortable and let’s face it sweet-smelling during the main meal.
But when Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus over for a meal, he didn’t extend this usual custom to him. He subtly insulted Jesus by not greeting him with a kiss, and he didn’t have the servants wash his feet. Jesus points this out, and I’m sure Simon would have squirmed a bit.
Simon is also puffed up with righteous indignation at the sort of woman who was touching Jesus. In those days any physical contact was limited to spouses and close family members, and a woman touching Jesus could have made him ritually unclean. Simon starts to mock Jesus, saying that if he was really a prophet he should know what type of woman she was. Simon thought that prophets would be Pharisees like him, rejecting the woman for legalistic purity reasons.
Jesus did know all about the woman – she had come to Jesus in gratitude for the forgiveness of her sins. We are not told what sort of sins she was guilty of, but that doesn’t matter here. What is more important is that Jesus had the power to forgive those sins, and the woman recognized that. Poor old Simon must have been furious – first an unclean woman, then his plan to discredit Jesus seems to backfire. Jesus tells the small parable about forgiveness of a greater debt leading to more love. He doesn’t spell out what that means for us – he leaves us, as he often does, to join up the dots.
So what sort of dots can we join? No matter what sort of sin, no matter how huge, it is not too big to be forgiven. And this also applies to tiny sins too. Nothing is too small for Jesus to forgive. We can bring anything that is on our conscience to Jesus for forgiveness, and as we feel the load lifted from our shoulders, we can accept joyfully that forgiveness.
Our kids learnt this song at the holdiay programme last year, and it sums it all up really.