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  • Jennifer Kelly

Voices That Testify: The Sinner


Although there are accounts of a certain woman anointing Jesus in all four Gospels, the Lukan story is the one that settles in my heart and mind and stays with me.[1] This woman, desperate yet brave, extends to us one of the best gifts of grace in our time of need: the truth that Jesus forgives and extends dignity to those who are desperate for it.


Scripture describes her as “a woman who had lived a sinful life”.[2] Throughout the ages, people have identified her “sin” as the notorious sexual activity of prostitution. Although her “many sins” are certainly highlighted in Luke’s version, her display of hospitality and gratitude toward Jesus is the shocking part of the narrative.


When she learned that Jesus was at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, she grabbed her alabaster jar and invited herself over for dinner. Evidently, she had the reputation, the past, and a whole lot of reasons not to go ... she went anyway. This un-named woman in Luke displays one of the most amazing acts of surrender in all of Scripture.


Oh, how I resonate with her. How I feel her pain of longing and suffering, guilt and shame, wanting to be clean and forgiven, so much so as to act like a fool and interrupt a party. She pours oil at Jesus’ feet and sobs. She absolutely loses it knowing that Jesus could wipe away all of her past mistakes and replace them with a different narrative. A redemptive one.


Weeping uncontrollably, she starts wiping away her own tears with her hair and kisses the feet of her Messiah. In Jesus’ day, washing feet was an act of hospitality, and kissing them was usually seen as an act of gratitude for pardon.[3] The scene that is on full display in front of the Pharisees in Luke’s account is intimate and shocking.


Disdain and disgust filled the room as the Pharisees watched such a blatant and unfamiliar act of desperation, gratitude, and emotional outpouring. Confusion, surprise, and utter grossness are the only words that come close to describe what the Pharisees were feeling. How could Jesus accept such an offering from this type of woman? Didn’t he know who she was and what she had done?


As brave as she was to crash the scene, our hero is Jesus. No doubt, the woman literally put it all on the line in front of the people who would judge her, sneer at her, and mock her. Her courageous display of surrender is unfamiliar for many of us today. But it is Jesus who turns the room upside-down. You see, Jesus doesn't just hide her sins under the rug.


All of a sudden, Jesus uses her weakness and turns it into strength.

Jesus tells the dinner party a story of two debtors who receive forgiveness. And the one who is forgiven for the larger debt? Yeah, that one loves more. In two seconds, Jesus elevates the prominence and position of this woman’s actions above the host! That “love” that she had been in search for her whole life, probably got her into some trouble throughout the years. And Jesus says, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much”.[4]


For Jesus to declare her sins forgiven is enough to cause a riot. Who was this man who could deem sins forgivable? Without a sacrifice, without the temple, without a priest? Generations of deep religious laws (which were handed down since the time of Moses) all of a sudden questioned by the extension of forgiveness through one man! But Jesus doesn’t stop there either. Jesus applies the parable he tells directly to the un-welcomed woman … he esteems her by highlighting her actions that day comparative to that of the Pharisees.


How often has my “love/desire” been given to the wrong people, the wrong things, the wrong pursuits throughout my life? When I came face-to-face with a Savior that not only forgives ALL my sins (and my friends, there are way too many to count), He doesn’t just leave us there. In this un-named woman’s story, I find a God who accepts our acts of surrender and lifts us up off the ground. What I think are the absolute worst parts of my story, He uses them as a strength. Paul knew this reality too when He wrote about this very attribute of God to the Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.[5]


Luke's account of this story begs a question for my own life: Am I brave enough to display such an act of surrender toward my Savior? Do I trust Jesus with my weakness? Certainly, Jesus’ acceptance, forgiveness, and esteem of the intruding, sinful woman encourages my own heart. May Jesus’ words breath life to all of us who have begged for a chance at redemption from the one who can extend it …


“Your faith has saved you; go in peace”[6]

And my soul breathes.

*Luke 7:36-50

[1] Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8; Luke 7:36-50 [2] Luke 7:39 [3] Newsom, Carol A, et al. Women's Bible Commentary. 3rd ed., twentieth-anniversary ed., Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. p 505. [4] Luke 7:47 [5] 2 Cor. 12:9 [6] Luke 7:50

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