Jesus Is Anointed By a Sinful Woman - Bible Story Study Guide

The woman shows extravagant love because her many sins are forgiven

Luke 7:36-50 - Jesus Is Anointed By a Sinful Woman
A Woman Anoints the Feet of Jesus by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman when he enters the house of Simon the Pharisee. The story, found in Luke 7:36-50, teaches Simon and all future readers of the Bible an important truth.

Question for Reflection

Christ gave his life to save you from your sins. Is your response to him, like this woman's, filled with humility, gratitude, and unrestrained love? The sinful woman poured out her precious alabaster jar of expensive perfume as an extravagant act of love and worship. She recognized the Lord’s true value. How do you express your love, devotion, and thankfulness to Christ for his costly sacrifice?

Story Summary

All throughout his public ministry, Jesus Christ encountered hostility from the religious party known as the Pharisees. However, Jesus accepted Simon's invitation to dinner, perhaps thinking this man might be open-minded to the good news, like Nicodemus.

An unnamed woman "who had led a sinful life in that town" learned Jesus was at the home of Simon and brought with her an alabaster jar of perfume. She came up behind Jesus, weeping, and wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed his feet, and poured the expensive perfume over them.     

Simon knew the woman and her scandalous reputation. He was horrified that his honored guest would let a sinful woman touch him. He doubted Jesus' status as a prophet because the Nazarene should have known all about her.

Jesus took the opportunity to teach Simon and the others present with a short parable:

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty," (Jesus said.) "Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42, NIV)
Simon replied, "The one who had the bigger debt canceled." Jesus agreed. Then Jesus compared what the woman did right and Simon did wrong:
“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." (Luke 7:44-46, NIV)

At that, Jesus told them the woman's many sins had been forgiven because she loved much. Those who are forgiven little love little, he added.

Turning to the woman again, Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven. The other guests wondered who Jesus was, to forgive sins.

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50, NIV)  

Life Lessons

Ancient Middle Eastern hospitality demanded that a guest be welcomed with a friendly kiss, foot washing, and fragrant oil. Simon skipped those tokens of respect. Jesus pointed out that the woman was both conscious of her sins and grateful for forgiveness. The Pharisee, on the other hand, was spiritually arrogant, believing he had no sins to be forgiven.  

The sinful woman in this story answered the Lord’s call for faith while the self-righteous Pharisee failed to see his need of it. 

Faith in Jesus Christ and forgiveness are available to anyone in need of God’s divine grace, even the most rejected, outcast, scandalous people of this world. 

Points of Interest

This episode is often confused with a similar story of a woman anointing Jesus' feet, told in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8. However, in that episode, the dinner takes place at the home of Simon the Leper. Simon was a very common Jewish name in the first century. In fact, Jesus had two Simons among his apostles: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot. The banquet at Simon the Leper's home was in Bethany, and John reveals the woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. There is no mention of sin. Finally, in Luke's story, the woman anoints Jesus purely out of love. Mary of Bethany anoints him about a week before his crucifixion, for his upcoming burial.

Some Bible scholars mistakenly identify the woman in Luke's story as Mary Magdalene, yet there is no evidence to support that. While Jesus did cast seven demons out of Magdalene, the Bible never associates possession with sin. Further, the notion that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute was a medieval myth, not backed by Scripture.

Alabaster was a white, marble-like stone common in Israel. It was used as a container for ointments and perfumes, the lid sealed with wax to keep the contents from evaporating.

Women in the first century were held in low esteem, but Jesus often highlighted them in his ministry as examples of faith.

Sources

  • The Fourfold Gospel, J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton.
  • What is an alabaster box? https://www.gotquestions.org/alabaster-box.html