Imagine the scene of today’s reading. Jesus was the honored guest in the home of Simon the Pharisee, a devout Jewish leader. Suddenly, an uninvited woman of disrepute entered the scene clutching a jar of extremely expensive perfume. Everyone watched with bated breath. The so–called sinful woman stood at Jesus’ feet sobbing. Her tears were plentiful enough to wet Jesus’ feet. As if this episode was not already astonishing, the woman let down her hair to dry his feet. We can almost hear the audience gasp; a woman in the first century only showed her hair in the privacy of her own family. Then, the scandalous woman kissed Jesus’ feet and poured her costly perfume on them. What follows are two dramatically different interpretations of her behavior.
The spotlight falls on Simon, the stately host. We hear a voiceover of Simon’s inner thoughts (v. 39). According to the Pharisee, Jesus should know this woman’s awful reputation and the disgrace of associating with her. Though Simon may not have realized it at first, Jesus knew his private judgments and responded with a parable (vv. 41–43). The story of the debt collector has two main points. First, neither borrower has the ability to pay off his debt. Second, the one with the larger debt cancelled will be more grateful. Interestingly, Jesus frames the gratitude in terms of love, which knits the parable together with His following comments about the woman.
Jesus’ question to Simon in verse 44 probes beyond the surface. Jesus was not simply asking if his host’s physical eyes were functioning; He discerned Simon’s spiritual eyes. Moreover, Jesus starkly contrasted the respectable Pharisee with the “sinful” woman and turned expectation upside down. Whereas Simon interpreted the woman’s actions as disgraceful, Jesus regarded them as loving (v. 47). Then He referenced the parable to make two complementary points: the indebted woman loved Jesus abundantly and was forgiven because of it; she loved lavishly because she recognized that she had been released of such an insurmountable debt.