“36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 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.
39 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.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “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. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
~ Luke 7:36-46
Jesus was at the home of a well-respected, fine religious man when the above scene played out. Can you imagine? Here was an admired member of the community, a man who no doubt contributed to the Temple, dressed appropriately, and was considered a model of what religion should be, and he had just done Jesus the tremendous favor of inviting him to dine.
And then….she showed up. She was not refined. No one would consider her a fine religious woman. Heaven only knows how she was dressed. And did she issue a tasteful invitation to Jesus? Did she graciously and tactfully display her devotion to him? No. She fell at his feet in a most undignified manner, shed tears openly, kissed his feet, and then used her hair – her hair – to dry them. Did she plan this out step by step? I would bet she did not. I would bet that when she saw him, she responded to the feeling that welled up in her in that moment. It was unrefined, it was emotional, it was – dare I say it – hedonistic, this undignified display of love that she treated all of the well-respected guests to in someone else’s home. Surely Jesus would understand their shock. If he had known what kind of woman she was, surely he would have rebuked her for even touching him, much less for going on and on in such a base display.
Instead, he told a story about grace and gratefulness. It isn’t the first or last time Jesus has told such stories. In fact, just a few chapters later, he must drive the lesson home again.
“10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
~ Luke 18:10-13
Of course, Jesus wasn’t the first to lament our religious inability to see past the surface or see beyond our own dignified construct of what religion should look like. In Samuel we read “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart,” and the writer of Proverbs, in chapter 16 says, “All a man’s ways are right in His own eyes, but God examines the heart.”
Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t get it. In the book of John, they are invited to the home of Lazarus, and when Mary falls at Jesus’ feet and breaks an expensive jar of perfume to wash them, her emotional display is dismissed as being wasteful. I wonder if Jesus sighed before he once again had to remind them that true devotion is not always dignified.
There are lots of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs used in the Bible to describe what our devotion to God looks like, and some of them are words like “shout,” “prostrate,” “cry,” “dance,” “weep,” “kneel,” and “abandon.” These are not behaviors you would typically find at your local garden club meeting. They are, however, behaviors of someone who knows exactly how in need of God’s grace they are and exactly how foolish they are commanded to be for the sake of the gospel.
They are the behaviors of someone who is not afraid to express love, undignified. Someone who realizes that our devotion to Christ is not to be hampered, high-minded, or hidden. Sometimes our love for the One who knew no sin but became sin for us…should be hedonistic.