Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. He pursued unlikely people at the margins to welcome them into God’s kingdom.
There is a story in Luke 7 that brings this to life so powerful. It happens after Jesus’ great sermon on the plateau, His healing of a centurion’s servant and raising a widow’s son from death. Even these stories remind us of the powerful grace found in Jesus. And then comes a moment that is unexpected.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. (Luke 7:36)
Jesus is with some religious leaders, particularly a Pharisee, whose name we discover later is Simon. It is likely that Jesus and the other religious men are reclining at the table in the places of honor. However, it is also likely that this was an open event, which was not uncommon. Where others, who were not guests of honor, could enter the home and draw near to listen at the edges of the room. This was a visual representation of everyone’s social status: guests of honor at the center; everyone else at the edges of the room.
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)
Something unexpected happens. A woman known to the area as sinful appears. We don’t know exactly what this means, but tradition holds that she was a prostitute. She takes an exquisite alabaster jar of the most expensive perfume and lavishes it upon Jesus. She kisses His feet, weeps on His feet, and wipes His feet with her hair. Have you ever been to an uncomfortable dinner? Let me tell you, when this woman shows up in Simon the Pharisee’s home and pours out her thanksgiving to Jesus in this way, it may have felt like one of the most awkward moments you could ever imagine.
Jesus follows this awkward extravagance with a parable about forgiveness that reveals a stark contrast between the love of Simon the host and the love of this “sinful” woman. Simon offered Jesus no water for washing His feet, but this woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Simon failed to offer Jesus the common kiss of welcome, but this woman has endlessly kissed His feet. Simon offered Jesus no oil on His head for cleansing, but this “sinful” woman has poured out the most expensive perfume upon Him.
Whereas the religious leaders expected Jesus to be repulsed by the sinfulness of this woman, instead He is put off by the lack of gratitude from their religious hearts. Instead, He is drawn to the heart of this woman broken by her sin and overcome by the gracious welcome of a Savior who receives us and forgives.
Great forgiveness leads us into an extravagant response, while little sense of forgiveness makes it easy to miss the great gift. The value system of the kingdom is different than the value system of the world. This woman was anything but the most valuable person of her town, but to God revealed in Jesus Messiah she is significant and worth treasuring with the greatest gift of God’s gracious forgiveness.