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God’s Word for You

Luke 7:36-38 A simple act of worship

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jesus Is Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36 Now a certain one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat dinner with him. So Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

We don’t know when this happened, but Luke brings up this story just after Jesus has been accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (verse 34), and so the story’s place here may be topical rather than chronological. However, enough of the details are different from the later and more well-known anointing at Bethany for us to say that this was a different incident, probably up north in Galilee, and early in Jesus’ ministry. The account of Jesus being anointed by Mary of Bethany at her home in Bethany is recorded in the other three Gospels (Matthew 26:2-16; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-8), but happened much later, a little more than a week before the Lord’s crucifixion.

Remember the detail that Jesus was reclining at the table: kataklino means “to lay alongside.” Dining couches were commonplace for a meal like this. The diners would generally lay on their left sides to eat right-handed, and were served by a whole host of servants.

Why had this invitation come? Did the Pharisees, or this “certain one of the Pharisees,” want to persuade Jesus to come over to their side, and stop associating with the poor and the sinners? If so, this Pharisee didn’t do a very good job, failing even to extend to Jesus the commonest courtesy of water for his feet (verse 44)—not only didn’t he assign a servant to do wash the Lord’s feet, he didn’t’ even provide Jesus with any water so that he could have done it himself. The whole scene seems more like another one of the Pharisees’ traps.

37 Just then 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,  38 and she stood behind him, near his feet, weeping. She began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair as she kissed them and poured perfume on them.

This woman is politely said to have “lived a sinful life in that town,” and this probably means that she was a prostitute—and a well-known prostitute at that. Hendricksen wants to say that she only had a bad reputation in the town. But since a woman would not own a business, should we assume that her ruined reputation and well-known sin was merely gossiping? Was she a murderess who had escaped conviction? It’s difficult to come up with an explanation other than adulteress, but I suppose we don’t need to press the point.

Uninvited guests were welcome to turn up at a banquet like this one where there would be a well-known visitor. Such people might sit along the wall, listening to the conversation, and even engaging the invited guests in a dialogue.

It’s easy to see how this woman might have heard about the visit of the Lord and how she might have gotten in. A repentant woman, now a believer in Jesus (everybody in Galilee had heard him or at least heard about him), but with a ruined reputation—of course she wanted to come, to serve him, her Savior. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume with her. Alabaster is a soft stone, a form of gypsum, which today is ground down to make plaster and even the inner core of the sheetrock that makes the walls of the room you’re probably in right at this moment. This carved jar would have to be broken to be opened. Wetting his feet with her tears and the perfume, she wiped the Lord’s feet with her hair. The Pharisees probably thought very little of the act itself. A slave might wipe up his master’s spill with the slave’s own sleeve and no one would think anything of it. A slave might weep while serving, and his master might never ask why. Something else concerned the Pharisees—and that’s what the verses that follow are all about. For the woman, it was a moment to show her faith, her gratitude, her devotion, and her love. She didn’t do it to earn a better place in heaven. She did it to give her thanks, as an act of worship.

Her example is a simple one, but one to be taken seriously. What will my act of worship be today?

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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