“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. The she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Luke 7:37-38
I love this passage. In my mind it is easy to imagine this scene: the “sinful” woman knelt down behind Jesus as he reclined at the table full of men, sobbing tears dropping from her chin onto His feet, her efforts to wipe them clean with her hair hanging down around her face as she knelt. The scriptures don’t say, but I wonder if she’d originally brought the perfume with the intention of anointing Jesus’ head. I wonder if she surprised herself with the emotional outburst that came when she entered into Jesus’ presence that evening. I wonder if she ever struggled to not feel embarrassed once the evening was over and she thought back to how she’d behaved.
In all of my times envisioning this scene, I have maintained a certain picture of this woman. In my mind, I have generally imagined her to be dressed in older clothes, with dirty, unkempt hair, her face and hands smudged with old dirt. I have always assumed her to be obviously poor, perhaps considered “un-touchable” by the other men in the room that night. I mean, after all, she was a “sinner”.
But as I was reading this passage recently, a few new questions came into my mind that have me reconsidering my original assumption about who this woman was.
The first, and most obvious inconsistency in my mind’s picture of this scene: If this woman was so poor, and dirty – if she was such an outcast from society – what was she doing at the Pharisee’s home?
What kind of person – a woman no less – would be allowed to just come into a Pharisee’s home during a dinner party and not immediately be told to leave? The Pharisees were very careful about the type of people with whom they spent their time – especially when others were watching. Any person who had such freedom to come into this party and to behave in such a way without a word of rebuke from anyone would have to have been an important person, likely from an important family, and likely with a lot of money.
Though, even if all of these things had been true of the woman, I still have to ask myself: Why did the Pharisee allow a known “sinner” to attend a dinner party at his home? Of course, we have no room to speculate on this question too far, but I can’t help but to wonder what were the reasons that the Pharisee’s were so willing to look the other way regarding the sins of this woman and to allow her such freedom in their community. Was it her heritage? Her money? Her physical beauty?
Further, and much more difficult and convicting for me to wonder, however, is how this woman could have had such a presence among this society of church leaders – those who had publicly committed their lives to serving the Lord – and have never received freedom from the sin in her life?
It doesn’t take much of a stretch to pose these same questions to the church today – to my own self and the work to which I am called, in fact. Have we as church members/leaders today become so dependent on the provision of man that we, too, pick and choose the types of sin – the types of “sinners” – we “excuse” in our church so as to better meet our own needs? Have we become so entrapped by these earthly provisions that we’ve become willing to look the other way in the face of the oppression and enslavement that so obviously controls those in our company? Do we allow individuals to suffer in the darkness of their sin, separated from their God, due to our fear of losing the earthly, material things they provide for us?
In my time in Kaliningrad in prayer ministry – and throughout the past year as I’ve seen God open more and more doors in that area of my work here – it has not escaped my notice that the great majority of the men and women with whom I am working do not fill the profile that I would typically assume for a “sinner”. In fact, every person on whom I have laid my hands and for whom I have prayed for healing this year has been what we often refer to as an “active” member of a church, either in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, or Tallinn. Many of these people have been long-time leaders in their congregations, including pastors and their wives. Most of them have made great sacrifice to follow the call of God in their lives, especially through the western, non-Orthodox church. Their church is their family – the most important people in their lives are those to whom they minister.
In Luke 8: 1-3, immediately after this story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus, we get to learn a little about some of the people who were traveling with Jesus in His ministry in these days. Luke tells us that the disciples were with Him, and verse 2 says that there were also some women traveling with Him “who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.” Included in Luke’s short list in vs. 2-3 are Mary Magdalene – who had been delivered of 7 demons – and a lady by the name of Joanna, who Luke indicates was “the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household.”
The manager of Herod’s household? Herod Antipas? The same tetrarch of Galilee who’d had John the Baptist beheaded and who Luke says in 9:7-9 later feared Jesus to actually be John himself raised from the dead? The wife of the “manager of Herod’s household” was traveling with Jesus’s crew to other villages, and – per Luke’s account in 8:3 – even supporting Him financially? Wow. I don’t know why, but the image of this very wealthy and influential woman going to Jesus for healing and then sacrificing so much in order to follow Him and serve Him through her wealth and affluence came as a surprise to me. And also with it came the confirmed conviction about the definitions I have set up regarding the types of people I should be serving – the face of those who are the broken and mighty in the Kingdom of God.
Let us be careful to care for orphans and widows in their distress. Let us always reach out to help the materially poor and destitute as God leads. About these things the scriptures are clear. But neither let us neglect those who are the leaders and pastors in our churches, or are the powerful, influential members of our communities, or are the closest members of our very own personal circles. We must give these people room to be broken sinners with the rest of us. We must allow them to receive the grace of Jesus Christ in their lives. We must allow them to come forward and to weep furiously and wonderfully at the feet of Jesus – in front of all of us, without condemnation, judgment, or question from any of us who’ve come to put them on such a high, untouchable platform.
I am so grateful for the love I feel for and from you. Many blessings in Christ – Miki