A story of one woman’s radical love for Jesus: A study of Luke 7:36-50

This Sunday at church, we watched a clip of a Francis Chan message in which he talks about a man who told him that he was too focused on being radical and was leaving out all of the ‘middle of the road’ Christians.  Francis Chan proceeds to point out that the Bible points to a narrow path to heaven so we are all called to that narrow path – and being radical.

The word “radical” bother me a lot. I think this is because I see words like radical and passionate through the lens of our Western world which places high value on the extrovert (as described in Susan Cain’s book Quiet). As an introvert, I feel like I can never live up to the image of a radical that comes to my mind – someone who is very animated and outspoken.  When I came home on Sunday, my mind kept coming back to this word. And so, instead of continuing to analyze why words like radical bother me so much, I decided to instead start studying some examples of radical love in the Bible to see what I could learn. Below are my thoughts from my first study of an example of radical Christianity, the story of Jesus being anointed by a Sinful Woman in Luke 7:36-50.

In this story, we see Jesus was invited to eat dinner at a Pharisee’s house. The word Pharisee now has the meaning of “a self-righteous person, a hypocrite.”  But in Jesus’ time, these were the well-respected religious leaders, the dinner party for which you’d love an invite. Jesus’ comings and goings traveled fast, despite the lack of mass communication, and so a woman who was known to be living a sinful life heard that Jesus was having dinner in her town.

Now let’s pause here for a minute. What would you do if you learned Jesus was in your town visiting a well-respected leader, someone whose house you know you’d never be invited to?

  • Would you stay home and wallow in self-pity that you were not invited and were not one of them?
  • Would you go wait outside the home and try to sneak a peek at him, like a fan nowadays visiting a hotel known to be frequented by the famous singer in town?
  • Would you put on your finest outfit and sneak in to the party, much like a modern day wedding crasher, trying to blend in as one of the guests?

Let’s find out what she decided to do.

Luke 7: 37-38: “A woman in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came here 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.”

Wait what? Now let’s pause to imagine what it would be like to be one of the people watching this scene unfold. I’m sure the whispers included things like:

  • Isn’t that the prostitute?
  • Who does she think she is?
  • She doesn’t belong here.
  • What a foolish thing to do – a waste of a beautiful, expensive jar of perfume!

How often do we whisper similar things? Questioning people’s actions, identity, qualifications, and motives.

And how often have I heard some of those whispers about me – sometimes from others, but even more often from deep inside me, whispers from the enemy.

  • I fail – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”(Romans 7:15).
  • I struggle with self-doubt and yet I know that “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14
  • I feel out of place or like I don’t belong “But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception (1 John 4:6).
  • I feel foolish “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God “ (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Back in the story, the hostess breaks the silence with the words “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”  (Luke 9:39).  Ouch – the pain that woman must have felt.  Hearing the words spoken about her that she felt inside her

And yet, Jesus’s response isn’t as expected. Jesus, as he so often did, responded with a story.  A story that shows the Pharisee that he has come for all who need forgiveness, especially this woman whose heart is open to receive much forgiveness. Jesus tells the story of two men who owe debts, one small and one large. The debt collector decided to forgive both debts. Jesus asks the Pharisee which man will love the debt collector more and he responds the one who has been forgiven much. Jesus answers that he is correct.

Now let’s pause here again. Upon first read, it may sound as though Jesus is implying that this Pharisee had sinned little and thus could only love Jesus little. But doesn’t the Bible teach that all of us have sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23)?  And Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And so, while our sins may differ in many ways, the debt is the same for all.  .

Now back in the story, Jesus turned toward the woman and said to the Pharisee “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”(Luke 7:44-47)

This woman knows of her failings, her shortcomings, her sin, and when she sees Jesus, she offers him all of her. She loves him much because she is forgiven much. And so, we who accept Jesus as our savior have had an enormous debt forgiven (regardless of the number and size of our sins) and thus should love much. And yet, like the Pharisee, we can get caught up in the trappings of the world and think of our debt as smaller than it really is. We try to live on our merit and earn our salvation by our good deeds instead of recklessly falling at Jesus’ feet as a display of our gratitude and love for his forgiveness.

Do you know the song “To make you feel my love”? (Here’s a link to Adele’s recent cover if you haven’t heard it, although I first listened to Billy Joel’s cover). I love how the song describes how far this person will go to make someone feel their love. I have thought of it as a glimpse of God’s love for us. “I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue, I’d go crawling down the avenue, there’s nothing that I would not do – to make you feel my love.” Jesus lived this for me – he was bruised, beaten and died for me. And yet, how often do I forget how far he went to make me feel His love? 1 John 3:16 says “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Oh how I long to live my life fully grasping His love and forgiveness for me!


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