And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. (Luke 7:37-38 NASB)
One of the elements of the Gospel accounts I have to keep reminding myself of is that no one around Jesus really understood Him. Even as Peter makes his dramatic statement about Jesus being the “Son of the Living God” he turns around and rebukes Jesus. So, when I read about someone responding to Him in a way that seems to recognize something about Him that is obvious to me but couldn’t be even known to them, it should stand out. This woman is one of the most dramatic examples.
Luke doesn’t mince words about this woman. It was well known about town (not sure which town) that she is a sinner. Not necessarily a “stoning offense”, but a “sinner” nonetheless. She hears Jesus is in town and eating at a Pharisee’s house, one of the places she can be assured she’s not welcome. So she brings perfume in an expensive jar for Jesus. She stands behind Him at the table and begins weeping, the ears falling on His feet, which she then wipes with her hair and anoints with perfume.
Driven To Humiliation
If you put yourself in the scene, it’s really moving. Everyone there knew who and what she was. The woman is clearly very emotional, distraught, and obviously devoted to Jesus to do what she does. The very act would, I suspect, cause a lot of uncomfortable, possible embarrassment, for those watching, the other guests, and the host. While we’re not told how everyone else felt, we are told what the host thought, and it wasn’t very kind to either the woman or Jesus.
So, what does it take to bring a person to the point they would humiliate themselves as this woman? The only thing I can think of is a huge realization of her distance from God, and an equal realization of the closeness of Jesus to God. It’s this disparaging difference, the overwhelming gulf between where she was and where Jesus was in relation to God that drove her to come before everyone and honor Jesus in this way.
Where’s The Payoff For Humiliation?
I’m a sinner. Yet it’s not something I’m so overwhelmed by that I humiliate myself in front of everyone to confess. Think that through. I don’t think most people would deny that they’re “sinners”, but how many would come to church to humiliate themselves to demonstrate their devotion to Jesus? It happens, sure. You can probably recount one or two experiences you’ve witnessed. But the rarity is part of what makes such events stand out.
One other detail that often gets missed here. Jesus hasn’t forgiven her yet. Let that sink in. She’s demonstrating this humiliating devotion but not because she’s forgiven, the gulf hasn’t been spanned yet. Whether Jesus forgives or not, she’s convinced He will not reject her as all the others have. She somehow knows that He will not treat her the same, and it’s that to which she responds in humble devotion. Yet in her faith that she will be accepted, she winds up forgiven.
Why the Overwhelming Difference Remains
Is it our pride, my pride, that keeps me from experiencing God, my Master in this way? What can the opinions of people really be like to compare to the acceptance of my Master, even with my sins? But I don’t go, I don’t confess, I don’t throw myself at His feet, and I don’t humble myself before Him in public devotion. And so there remains this overwhelming difference between He and I. Why am I not willing to crash and burn so that He can lift me from the ashes of my cardboard palace? Why am I so resistant to His calling to surrender and accept only from His hand? Why am I content to be one forgiven so little when I have so much to be forgiven?
Encouraging view through the knothole today? It can be though, isn’t recognizing the problem the first step toward recovery and sobriety? What’s your view through the knothole?