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One of my favorite women in the Bible is found in Luke 7. Regretfully, Scripture doesn’t record her name, but knowing her gives me so much hope; a gift the Lord has provided for all of us on the journey.
As we pick up the story, Jesus was having dinner with Simon, a man who measures up by society’s standards. He is a Pharisee — a religious leader. And they are joined by an uninvited guest, a woman who doesn’t measure up. She has lived a sinful life. At first this may seem odd that she would be present, but it was the custom of the day for the public to wander in and observe what the important people were doing.
We don’t know much else about her. We can make a few reasonable guesses, though. I bet she didn’t come from a family of financial means. No doubt she grew up a victim, never having the privilege of a protective, secure, or loving home. No one arranged a marriage for her. She lived at a time when there was very little employment and no education available for women. She had few options and probably turned to prostitution to survive. She had done nothing that society considered as worthy, was disrespected by everyone and no doubt full of shame. My heart goes out to her. She was merely trying to survive in an environment that didn’t give her many choices and for that she was scorned.
In the midst of her survival, however, she encountered Christ. All she knew was that she was drawn to this man and wanted to be near him. It’s likely she couldn’t read and probably knew nothing of Scripture. She had never attended Sunday school or a woman’s Bible study. But she had met Jesus and the truth in Jesus penetrated her hardened shell. He found a way past her bitterness and distrust. She didn’t know Jesus was the promised Savior, but somehow she knew he was her hope! His truth got through to her soul and she was transparent and vulnerable in his presence. All she could do was weep.
She brought with her a gift of tremendous value, an alabaster jar of perfume. The value of this perfume was more than a year’s wages — another indicator of her profession possessing such an item. She was invisible in the gathering — on the floor, behind Jesus washing his feet. Her tears flowed over his feet as they mixed with the beautiful fragrance from the perfume. Not only had she risked ridicule and gossip by appearing in public with these “acceptable” people, but she had further tempted criticism by worshipping Jesus in front of everyone.
It was almost as if she didn’t care what they thought of her this night. Why would this be true? What would compel her to subject herself to the public? She was at the lowest rung of society — they called her a bad woman behind her back. I can’t help but wonder how Simon, the Pharisee, knew who she was. She has, no doubt, had a tough go of it her whole life. No one has valued her. So what changed her? Why would she do this thing?
Jesus knew. He knew exactly what was happening. He saw her. Like no one had ever seen her before — Jesus saw her. She probably had been used, taken advantage of, abused — but never seen for who she was and what she needed. He touched her heart and she felt things she had never felt before. She felt loved and full of hope. And what was the catalyst? Jesus accepted her!
Before the entire dinner party, Jesus extolled her actions. He bragged about the “unacceptable” woman to everyone there! Out of gratefulness she was compelled to worship Jesus with her whole heart, sacrificing perhaps the most expensive gift she possessed, and risking ridicule. She was compelled to come. She knew he would receive her and she was right. Jesus saw her heart and was pleased. She came in absolute brokenness. She asked for nothing. She only wanted to be in his presence and worship him. And he accepted her.
He didn’t stop there. He provided for her true need, the one that dogged her day in and day out and threatened to pull her down forever, that truth she knew only too well: “I am a sinner.” You see it’s not that Jesus didn’t know who she was or what she had done. He knew everything. Nothing was hidden from him.
He saw behind the lifestyle and poor choices to her need for mercy. And what’s more, he knew he was the only one who could provide for that need.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:47-48).
Like all of us, she deserved punishment for her many sins but he gave her mercy instead because he loved her. He didn’t stop there. It even gets better. For the final blessing, he gave her grace, unmerited favor.
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).
This woman has left her captivity and is on her way to freedom. He saved her from the wretched torment of her soul and replaced it with his peace. She didn’t get his peace because she earned it. He just wanted her to have it, a gift.
It was as if he said, “Oh, by the way. Before you go, I’d like to take your darkness, self-deprecation, and misery and give you peace in their place.” And at that moment she felt God rain down upon her tortured soul rivers of mercy and grace. God removed her pain and, for the first time in her life, her soul was at rest and she was at peace. She went home a changed woman.
Jesus sees you, too. He has more love and acceptance for you than you can ever imagine. He is the answer for your true need. Be sure to take this truth along with you because this life-sustaining hope will strengthen you on your own healing journey.