Summary: Jesus has dinner with a Pharisee and forgives a sinful woman
The Middle East is an extremely conservative, extremely religious area. For a woman to leave the house without her hair up, hair covered, and face hidden behind a veil would have been extremely shameful. Women were not valued at this time, they were not well respected or considered equal to men on any level. They could not own property, they could not vote, they could not testify in court because they were not viewed as being fully human. Now if a woman would be shamed for leaving the house with her hair down how do you think she would be treated if she was known to engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage?
Imagine a small town where everybody knows everybody, where there is no such thing as a private life: picture small town USA in the early1960’s. Where if a young woman was pregnant outside of marriage a lot of times her family would send her away so no one would know what she had done and she would not embarrass or shame them. The Middle East would make small town 1960’s look as liberal as California by comparison. A woman like this would be considered vile, dirty, wicked, and sinful. Men would treat her with disgust, she would be a social outcast. Everywhere she goes she would get dirty looks from people. Her life would be full of pain, shame, and loneliness.
In Luke 7:36 Jesus meets a woman like this. Here is what happens:
Lk 7:36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. Lk 7:37 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, Lk 7:38 and 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.
Jesus has already built a reputation for eating with sinners. Jesus eats with drunkards, perverts, liars, cheaters, thieves, and whores. He does not condone their sin but He values them as human beings. The religious people they don’t understand. They condemn Jesus for being a friend to the sinful people of the world. They ask Him why He eats with sinners. Well because Jesus doesn’t like to eat alone. The difference between the sinners and the religious people that Jesus eats with, is that the sinners are honest about the fact that they sin. The religious people aren’t. They like to think that they are righteous and good and not guilty like the dirty rotten scum that Jesus eats with.
Pharisees means trouble. They are the religious elite, they carry with them a feeling of superiority and entitlement and they are typically indifferent to the needs of the hurting people around them. Pharisees care more about making themselves look good then they do helping those in need. When we see them in Luke at least thus far it is always been a sign something is going to go badly. Think like Gilligan’s Island whenever you see Gilligan you know he going to cause trouble.
Simon the Pharisee not Peter, invites Jesus over for diner. Now we don’t know that he has nefarious intentions but the fact that he is a Pharisee should make us a bit suspicious. Now at this time they did not sit in chairs at tables three or four feet off the ground. Jews ate at tables that were only a few inches off the ground. They would sit down and sort of lay on their left side on a pillow that was essentially resting on the right side of person next to them. They would eat with one hand and the meal took time. Each person’s head would be at the table and their feet out pointing away from it. As the guest of honor Jesus was likely sitting next to Simon.
Enter the sinful woman. This lady is not named and we are not told specifically what her sin is. She is however most likely a prostitute as she was known all over town. When she comes in her hair is not up and hidden as any respectable woman at this time would have done it, but let down. A woman with her hair down at this time would be like a woman walking around in her underwear in public today.
She comes in carrying an alabaster jar of perfume. Alabaster is a translucent stone which would be hollowed out to serve as a jar for perfume. This was a very valuable item and would often be worn around a woman’s neck and tucked into her clothing. This perfume is valued at around a year’s wages. Today she would be dumping $30, 40, 50 thousand on Jesus feet.