hen you invite people to your house, you sometimes never know who is going to show up. In Luke chapter seven, we’ll see how Jesus used the actions of an uninvited guest to teach His host an important spiritual lesson…
“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” (Luke 7:36 NIV and following)
We’ll find out later that this dinner took place in the home of a man named Simon. Simon was a man who belonged to a group of religious leaders known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were extremely dedicated to keeping a strict code of conduct that earlier religious leaders had developed in following the various laws found within the Old Testament. This included many detailed interpretations that specified how to follow the Old Testament rules, especially when it came to things like washing and handling food. This group, along with the scribes (a group of men who were responsible for making copies of the Old Testament) and another group called the Sadducees helped to form the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.
Now we’re told that Jesus went to this man’s house and “reclined at the table.” Reclining at the dinner table may sound like an unusual way to eat until we realize that the cultural customs of eating and drinking in those days were often very different from the customs that we often follow today. You see, the usual practice when taking a meal in Jesus’ day was to sit on the floor (or a small couch) and recline back upon cushions while eating. The seating area was commonly arranged in a “U” shaped pattern with one side left open so the dishes could be delivered and taken away. This set up allowed people to enjoy a very relaxed and casual style of eating.
Now there’s nothing really out of the ordinary about this dinner engagement so far – until we get to what happens next…
“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. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:37-38).
Unfortunately, our translations of these verses don’t always give us the complete idea of what was actually going on here. For instance, we’re told that the woman who brought this perfume to Simon’s home was simply a person who had lived a sinful life. But the original language used in these verses indicates that this woman was extremely sinful and especially wicked. (1) Although this passage doesn’t give us any specifics, it’s likely that this woman had been a prostitute or involved in some other extremely immoral lifestyle.
So this notoriously sinful woman showed up (apparently unannounced) at Simon’s dinner party. After she arrived, we’re told that she approached Jesus and “…knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair” (NLT). In that culture, these actions represented a radical violation of the normal social customs. First, it was very inappropriate for a woman of that day to appear in public with her hair untied as we see here. Next, for this woman to be so overcome with emotion and cry enough to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears was something else that was highly unusual. But then to take the additional step of drying His feet with her own hair was an act of great humility.
We’re told that she followed these actions by kissing Jesus’ feet. To kiss someone’s feet was a sign of deep respect in those days, but the word used to describe what happened here indicates that she kissed Jesus’ feet again and again. (1) In other words, this woman enthusiastically and repeatedly kissed Jesus’ feet.
After this, we’re told that she poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. Perfume at that time was often stored in jars made from alabaster (or lime sulfate as we know it today). Perfume jars were usually globe shaped at the bottom with a long neck at the top. Because alabaster is a very soft material, all this woman had to do was snap off the jar’s neck, pour the perfume out of the globe portion and cover Jesus’ feet with the fragrance inside.
Now these events are not what you would normally expect to see at a dinner party and they brought a quick reaction from the man who invited Jesus to dinner…
“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘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 7:39).
Now we get some insight into the mindset of Jesus’ host, Simon the Pharisee. It’s clear that Simon is thinking, “Either Jesus doesn’t know what this woman is really like which means that He isn’t what He claims to be. But even if he does know what kind of person she is, then he must not be very holy.”
However, there’s something else about Simon’s reaction that’s very important but easy to miss. Did you notice that when the Pharisee who invited Jesus saw what was happening, “…he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is…'” (emphasis added). In other words, Simon literally “spoke within himself” without anyone else knowing or hearing what he said- or so he thought.
Now check out the beginning of the next verse…
“Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you…'” (Luke 7:40a).
How could Jesus possibly answer this man when we’re specifically told that he didn’t speak to anyone other than himself? Well, the answer is that Jesus knew exactly what Simon was thinking even when no one else did. This little portion of Scripture reminds us that we can always be completely honest with Jesus in prayer because He already knows what we’re thinking anyway. While it’s true that people can often say one thing about someone and think something very different, no one can do that with Jesus. Jesus already knows our thoughts just as He demonstrated here. This tells us that it’s always better to be completely upfront with Jesus since He already knows what we’re really thinking.