Read Luke 7:36-50.
This is such a beautiful story, and there’s so much that can be learned from it. Jesus teaches us a very important lesson here: our ability to love comes from His love and forgiveness for us. Our capacity for forgiveness also comes from how deeply we accept the forgiveness He showed to us. A lot of people struggle to forgive and love others, and one reason that may be is we don’t understand or embrace the depths of the mercy Jesus showed to us.
Another thing this story shows us is that love takes action. Though we hear this a lot now, we still tend to soften it. We have to remember love acts radically and righteously. What about love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you? That’s radical and righteous. Jesus’ love for us is radical; God took radical action to save us from our sin and reconcile us to Him. And this woman showed radical love and humility toward Jesus in response, and He hadn’t even died on the cross yet. How much more should we unashamedly show our love for Jesus by following His commands? (For further reading on showing love, see Romans 12:9-21.)
The Bible doesn’t give us much information about this woman’s life, other than that it was sinful. And it doesn’t say “used to live a sinful life” or “repented of a sinful life.” Verse 37 says “who lived a sinful life”; this was very current. She was obviously repentant, but there wasn’t much of a waiting period. Jesus doesn’t make us wait for His acceptance and forgiveness; it’s immediate.
Also, this woman proves that all we need in order to change is Jesus. No work or weakness on our part can affect the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ. The Pharisee’s job was to serve the Lord, yet he didn’t have the love of Jesus in his life like the sinful woman. There’s no telling what this woman had done as a job in the past, yet Jesus totally transformed her heart. Never doubt Jesus’ power to change a heart, and never measure His power to change you by your own abilities.
We often use this story to emphasize how Jesus associated and loved even a sinful woman, but Jesus didn’t ignore this Pharisee either. The Pharisee invited Him, and Jesus came even though He knew the Pharisee wouldn’t show Him love. We know from reading the story that the woman was actually the one who loved Jesus, but that didn’t stop Jesus from being with both. Jesus loves everyone, the repentant sinner or struggling hypocrite. He loves us all.
His love for us leads us to sacrifice for Him. This woman sacrificed her hair, her perfume, her “dignity,” and risked walking into a Pharisee’s house just to express her love and gratefulness to Jesus. That’s amazing. Jesus’ love leads us to sacrifice because we see that compared to Him, everything else (even ourselves) is worthless. We have no dignity compared to the Son of God. Jesus is all we need, and we are unworthy of the great love He has lavished on us. He is so much better than all we have, so we need to readily give it all to Him.
It’s also important to remember that religious works don’t lead to faith. Again, the Pharisee’s job was ministering at the temple of God, but he didn’t have love for or faith in Jesus (v.39). But faith does lead to spiritual works. The woman, who had faith, showed her love (v.50). You could say that though the Pharisee went to work every week “for God,” he failed to notice the biggest and most meaningful opportunity he probably ever had before to serve Him. But the woman, who had sinned so much, did what was best in that situation because she recognized Jesus, believed in Him and loved Him.
There’s a lot we can learn from this story. Pray to God thanking Him for His great love and asking Him to teach you how to honestly live love out in response.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” — 1 John 3:1
(For another session on this story, check out Darren Mulligan of We Are Messengers’ Bible study on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orWsWDwB2C4 This Bible study has a PG16 rating.)