People Jesus Praised: The Sinful Woman

English service - September 17, 2023

Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison

Luke 7:36-50 

People Jesus Praised: The Sinful Woman


              Hello, everyone with us online and here in person.  We’re continuing today in our series of messages on people Jesus praised.  Through finding the things about them that Jesus wants to highlight and encourage, we are trying to make progress in our growth as human beings.  We are asking God to use this time in His word to help us become more like Him in character, so that our thoughts, words, and actions will naturally lead to His glory and our good. 


              As you may have already noticed, the people Jesus holds up for praise in the Bible stories are often surprising to His hearers.  The Roman commander is no doubt resented by most people, and John the Baptist probably seems awfully strange to a lot of folks.  The woman in today’s story is looked down on by many because she is “sinful” (v. 37).  But Jesus singles these three characters out in Luke 7 and gives them special attention because there is something in each of them that His listeners then and now need to see and apply to our own lives.


              Again today, let’s go through the story step by step.  It’s a little long, so I won’t attempt to include everything, but let’s try to experience in our minds this story of Jesus at a “dinner party” as it happens.  


              Luke has just told us that people call Jesus “a friend of ‘sinners’” (7:34).  Today’s story (7:36-50) gives us an example of what they have in mind when they say this about Him.  They seem to mean it as an insult or kind of claim against Him, but He is happy to be known as a friend of sinners and all people who come to Him, willing to live in a saving relationship with Him. 


              Jesus also says in 7:35 (just before today’s story), “All who follow wisdom prove that wisdom is right.”  We’re thinking about character formation and development recently.  One key part of a mature character is wisdom.  Probably nearly everyone wants to be wise, but the ways people understand what wisdom is vary so widely, it has almost no meaning to talk about it unless we have some common understanding of what it is and how you can tell wisdom from foolishness. 


              I like the way the Complete Jewish Bible puts v. 35: “. . . The proof of wisdom is in all the kinds of people it produces.”  In today’s story we get an example of a truly wise person.  And, surprise!  She’s not the kind that many imagine when they hear the word wise.  Again, there’s a lot we can learn from her, so I’m asking God to help us, as we listen, to notice and receive and be formed and strengthened in all the ways He has in mind for us today.


              Why is Jesus at a “dinner party” with a Pharisee?  Pharisees are the people He often speaks harshly against, and they set themselves against Him as His enemies.  But here one of them has invited Christ to have a meal in His home (probably dinner), and our Lord is willing to spend time with him, too, getting to know him personally.  As Sasaki-san explained in a message last month, Luke 4:15 tells us that Jesus is teaching in local synagogues.  He travels from place to place, particularly around the Galilee region.  He makes a habit of worshiping in synagogue on the Sabbath day, we learn in Luke 4:16 (a key reason we do the same, in order to be like Him).  And when He arrives somewhere, it apparently is His habit to teach in the synagogue there.


              Synagogues were often run by Pharisees, and it is likely that Simon is one of the leaders at the local place of worship where Jesus has just been teaching.  Luke doesn’t give us all the details, but according to the Bible scholar Dr. Craig Evans, the most likely idea is that this meal is the thank-you gift that Christ receives for the work He has just done there.  It’s his honorarium.  (We see Jesus going to the home of a Pharisee after speaking in Luke 11, and when He eats in the home of a Pharisee in Luke 14, it’s again on the Sabbath.)       


              If the dinner party is mainly Jesus’ honorarium, then the reason Simon invites Him to his home in the first place is not necessarily that He has great respect for Him and His teaching.  It’s likely more a matter of common courtesy or something Simon feels he is expected to do to follow custom.  It could be that he is just curious about Jesus or wants to look good in front of others by having at his party this person who is now becoming well-known.  Another part of His motivation may be what Luke has just told us in 6:7, that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.  If Simon can catch Him saying something that can get Christ in trouble, he may be glad to do it.  Some combination of these motivations may be in Simon as this party progresses.         


              Who is the woman who washes Jesus’ feet, puts perfume on them, and dries them with her hair?  We do not learn her name.  Is she the same person John mentions in 11:2 of his gospel who does similar things?  Maybe the one in the John 12 story (vv. 2-3) of Mary in Bethany?  The Bible writers never make that clear to us.  Could she be Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus drove out seven demons (Mark 16:9)?  Maybe, but Luke could tell us if that were the case, and he doesn’t.  So we don’t know for sure.    


              How does this woman get into Simon’s home in the first place?  If as a Pharisee he thinks he should stay away from “bad” people like her, why would he allow her to be there?  It’s not likely that he actively decides to let her in.  It’s more likely the way homes are designed in Israel at the time of this story.  They are typically not all that large—four to six rooms, say.  They are often designed in a U-shape, with one side open.  In the hot, eastern Mediterranean climate with no air conditioning, many people choose to eat in the courtyard area surrounded by the rooms of the home, like some people eat on a patio or veranda today.  It’s not strange or rare for people to come near to a gathering like this in someone else’s home.  In other words, the woman probably just comes to the party uninvited, and gets more directly involved than normal, which would not be too difficult to do.    


Verses 37b-38 describe her actions:


              So she came with a special sealed jar of perfume. She stood behind Jesus and cried at his feet. She began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair. She kissed them and poured perfume on them.


              Why is she doing these particular things?  Some of them are what you would expect a female servant in various near Eastern cultures at this time to do for a guest.  A host would either have her wash the guests’ feet, or at least provide water so that the guest could do it.  But this woman goes further and with her own tears wets Jesus’ feet.  A servant normally would dry the person’s feet with a towel, but this woman goes above and beyond and does it with her own hair.  A host might put a little standard olive oil on a visitor’s head as a sign of welcome and blessing, but she has brought perfume in a special sealed jar (probably hung with a necklace around her neck) and uses it.  She is showing extravagant, overflowing love.


              It can be a little difficult to picture in our minds what is really happening here if we think of it like we would a dinner party in our cultures today, sitting on chairs or tatami.  (How could she cry on His feet if she is behind him?  I’ve seen baseball pitchers like Shohei Otani and Yu Darvish throw plenty of curveballs before, but I’ve never seen anyone cry tears that curved to a certain place.)  In earlier Bible times, meals were served on mats, and Jewish people sat on mats around them to eat.  By New Testament times, they had taken the Roman custom of eating from tables, while reclining on couches.  (The painting gives you a clearer idea.) 





              Why is she crying?  Likely they are tears of regret, thinking of the things she has done that she wishes she hadn’t.  We do not know what her particular sins have been, but it’s likely that she has been in a lifestyle of sexual sin such as prostitution.  Now as she remembers what she wanted her life to be like and how it has really become, the tears just begin to flow.  There may also be a good amount of shame and just plain pain as she recalls the psychological and physical trauma she has gone through.  That’s easy to imagine, isn’t it? 


             But there may be tears of thankfulness to God coming from her eyes, as well.  She apparently somehow has come to know the life-changing love of God.  It’s hard to imagine that she just shows up at the party and starts crying.  Most likely she has heard Jesus teaching about the saving grace of God at the synagogue or another place in town.  She has come to know that life under the leadership, protection, and provision of her Heavenly Father is available to her just the same as any other person willing to receive it.  Jesus has described this as this living in the Kingdom of God.  Thinking of how He has not given up on her, despite all that she has been through, she can’t keep from returning that love in the only way she can think of to do it now.  She is probably crying tears of joy, realizing that she is loved and accepted by God, the only One whose opinion of her counts in the end.  Her overflowing gladness comes from realizing that she is just as valuable in God’s eyes now as anyone, and as important now as she ever was before she started her life of sin.  


              This woman is a wonderful example of the power of God to change a person’s life.  That isn’t lost on Jesus, but it seems to go right past Simon, as vv. 44-46 show.  We can learn as much from his lack of character as we can from this woman on the positive side as she enters new life in Christ.


              Jesus lists the ways Simon has not been a good host.  Why doesn’t this man do the things one would normally do to welcome a guest in this culture (greeting Him with a kiss, making sure His feet get washed, and putting some oil on His head)?  It may be because he doesn’t really like or respect Christ but is just following custom, as I said before.  It’s also possible that he was planning to eventually get around to doing the most basic things he’s expected to do, but the woman has gotten to Jesus first.  Jesus says in v. 45 that the woman hasn’t stopped kissing His feet “since I came in.”  To Simon, once this woman is with Jesus, that’s a reason to stay away.  He doesn’t want to go near her.  His first thought is not, “Let me help.”  He doesn’t feel compelled to join in her thoughtful, kind treatment of Christ or say, “Welcome to our home, Jesus” to help the time there be filled with a spirit of hospitality.  Keeping himself from looking bad, if not active virtue signaling, is more important to him than deepening relationships between people.      


              In v. 39 Simon thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him. He would know what kind of woman she is. She is a sinner!”  The word he uses for “touching” can mean a clearly sexual act.  She may not be married, but if she were, letting her hair down in public would be a bad enough thing in this culture for her husband to divorce her under the teachings of the Talmud.  So Simon sees Jesus as foolishly letting Himself get involved in something indecent.  His mistaken assumptions about Jesus can warn us.  How might we be misunderstanding Him?  First, he thinks Jesus doesn’t know the woman, no doubt because he’s from out of town.  Simon may be thinking, “This guy probably thinks she’s a servant in our home.”  Second, he assumes that if Jesus did know who she was, He should stay away from her or stop her from doing such unseemly things to Him.     


              So when Jesus does not turn away or make her leave because she is a sinful human being but holds out grace to her and helps her to make a new start, Simon thinks he has his answer about who Jesus really is—obviously not a real prophet.  In v. 39, Simon says that a true prophet would know what kind of woman was with him.  How would he know?  In this religious culture, people have expectations that an authentic prophet is especially in tune with God’s voice and aware of what is real, true, and good.  There are many examples of prophets, or seers, who see (or realize) 

things that are of great importance but cannot be seen with the eye.  You can find Elijah and Elisha doing this in I and II Kings.  An enemy nation will attack, for instance.  In other cases, a prophet may understand that beyond these events, God is using them as a way of punishing His people. 


John, in his story of Jesus’ life, makes an interesting comment about Jesus’ reaction when some people are really impressed with His miracles (2:24-25).


              24 But Jesus did not fully trust them. He knew what people are like. 25 He didn't need others to tell him what people are like. He already knew what was           in the   human heart.


             In Luke 5:20-24 some Pharisees and others think Jesus has done something terrible by telling a man his sins are forgiven.  That’s God’s job, after all.  But the writer points out (v. 22): “Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?’”


              Now in Luke 7 Jesus knows not only who the woman is, he also knows what Simon is thinking.  Verse 44 says, “Then he turned toward the woman. He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’”  There’s some interesting non-verbal communication happening here, that we shouldn’t miss if we want to get the full meaning of the story.  Jesus is beginning to speak to Simon.  But He isn’t facing Him.  He’s turned toward the woman.  He wants her to hear, too, of course.  But in facing away from Simon as He talks to him, Jesus seems to be showing him what it feels like to be kind of ignored, or discounted, not truly seen, understood, or appreciated. 


              One way of showing people that you value them, in many cultures, is to look at them and pay attention to them when you speak with them.  When you don’t, it can give a message that you don’t feel they are all that important or deserving of a place at the top of your mind.  Simon seems to be treating the woman like that.  He knows she’s there, but we don’t see him interacting with her.  It’s clear that he looks down on her because of her bad reputation.  He no doubt feels he could stain himself or his reputation if he acts in a welcoming way toward her.  What would people think then?  “Simon is acting friendly to her?  Well, I wonder how he knows her.  Maybe he’s done business with her before, if you know what I mean.”  It’s easy to imagine people thinking things like that, isn’t it.  Rumors of all kinds could quickly start, couldn’t they. 


             So Jesus is clearly talking about Simon when He says (v. 47b), “But the one who has been forgiven little loves only a little.”  Simon.  But this is a Bible story, let’s not forget.  The living God speaks through it to real people here and now.  There’s an obvious question inside it for us.  Where are you and I in this episode?  Are we more like the woman?  Like Simon?  If we are like the woman, there’s good news for us: the war’s over.  We can stop living in rebellion against God and begin to live in peace  with Him.  He has grace that is more than enough to cover any sin we have ever committed.  He is able and willing to save us.  We only have to turn to Him and place our lives in His hands, as this woman so clearly does.


             But if we are more like Simon, there’s still a lot of ground to cover.  So here are a few red flags for us to look for in our own lives.  Three signs of trouble, that we are named Simon even if we don’t yet realize it. 


(1)  You get more upset about other people’s sin than your own.  For instance, you feel angrier about things you see in the news than the ones you see in the mirror.

(2)  Your worship is superficial.  You may be going through the motions of worship every day, but there’s little real interaction between you and God.    For example, when you make a bad choice, you don’t repent and may not even notice what you’ve done wrong.  What you do when you sin tells everything about how you understand the gospel.

(3)  All your learning has not led you to love God and love people more.  You need convictions, but you also need compassion.  We tend to have one or the other, but Jesus intends us to have both.  A teacher named Bruce Frank says it this way:


Truth without grace is brutality.

Grace without truth is sentimentality.

Compromising either makes us unlike Jesus.


             If those warning signs give you concern, that can be a good thing.  The first step is to know that you are at risk, even if you are a person with a good reputation.  That is part of Jesus’ message to us through this story.  You may not be at risk of having people whispering bad things about you behind your back.  Far worse, you are at risk of being a person who doesn’t love very much.  You may be a person without the capacity to love deeply.  You may not know much at all through your own life experience what it is to give and receive love.  If that is the case, this is no small problem.  Living in relationships of love is at the very heart of what it means to be human.  Simon seems to be that kind of love-less person, and we can be, too.  If we are, we have a deep and profound need to be saved—not only to have our sins cleaned, but also to be saved from the emptiness, meaninglessness, purposelessness, and loneliness that come along with a life lacking in real love.     


              Gladly, we have a fine model of faith to follow when we know our spiritual need for salvation.  It’s the unnamed woman at Jesus’ feet.  Everyone at Simon’s home probably knows this woman’s past, so nearly everybody is likely keeping their distance from her.  But Jesus does not.     


             Instead, he says in front of everyone words that will stay in their memory.  They will be of great benefit to this woman in the future as she begins to make a new place for herself in the local community, as a person valued and accepted and worthy of respect.  He announces (v. 47a), “Her many sins have been forgiven. She has loved a lot.”  It’s not that she is forgiven because she felt something very strongly or cried a lot or did certain acts of service.  She is forgiven because God is a God of deep, forgiving love, and she is willing to receive that gift.  Her tears and acts of humble service are evidence of what has happened between God and her.  She means in her heart what she is saying with her actions.


             Jesus speaks directly to her with everyone listening and proclaims, (1) “Your sins are forgiven.”  Then (2) “Your faith has saved you.”  Finally, (3) “Go in peace.”  The order is important. 


             That’s the good news that has been changing lives of all kinds of people around the world for nearly 2,000 years now.  It’s still good news, and it’s available to you, me, everyone we know, and all people.  So let’s ask the Lord to help us receive His freeing, cleansing, life-transforming love deeper and deeper into our hearts and minds, learn to live by it more consistently every day, and pass it on to others.


             Father of all who come to you in humble faith, we sometimes hear the saying that one who is forgiven much, loves much.  Help us to be like that.  We know that we are all sinners before you and cannot save ourselves.  We may owe you 50 days’ work or 500 days’ work, we may be good or bad in the eyes of others, but you know.  We can’t pay you back what we owe.  Yet you offer us the amazing gift of grace to cover our sins.  Help us not to be blind to them or deny them but honestly place them before you, receive forgiveness, and begin again the journey of new life with you and the people around us.  Make every day ahead a chance to learn more fully to live by your amazing grace.  We pray it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.




Evans, C. A. (July 9, 2016). The Sinful Woman. Retrieved September 7, 2023 from

De Champaigne, P. (c. 1656). Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee. Retrieved          September 10, 2023 from

Frank, B. (2020). Christ and Culture. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.        

Retrieved September 10, 2023 from   FOUr_1ECcB0

Packer, J. I. and Tenney, M. C. (1980). Illustrated manners and customs of the Bible.         

Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Kulp, J. English explanation of Mishnah Ketubot. Ketubot 7:6. Retrieved September 9, 2023 from Ketubot.7.5.3?lang=bi