When Charles Dickens was twelve years old, his father was imprisoned for owing money to a baker. Young Charles was sent to work in a boot-blacking factory to earn money. At that time, over half of the inmates at the notorious Marshalsea prison were debtors. Dickens used the misery of his family’s imprisonment in several of his books, notably Little Dorrit.
In our reading today we again find a contrast between a Pharisee and an immoral woman. Jesus had accepted the invitation of Simon the Pharisee to dine at his home, and a local woman “who had lived a sinful life” came and anointed His feet with her tears and expensive perfume (vv. 37–38).
Simon’s reaction to this scene reveals both his priorities and his view of Jesus. He did not see the tears of this woman as a powerful expression of repentance and love. He did not see Jesus’ acceptance of her generosity as an expression of divine grace and forgiveness. He just saw a sinful woman. And he doubted that Jesus could even be a prophet if He was allowing that kind of woman to be near Him. He judged Jesus and the woman according to his own standards of purity and righteousness, and he decided that neither of them measured up.
Jesus revealed not only what Simon had been thinking privately but also Simon’s public failure to offer even basic hospitality. In contrast, this woman had given Jesus expensive perfume and her own tears of love and gratitude. Simon couldn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God because he didn’t think he was all that bad; the woman received forgiveness for her sins and the blessing of Jesus because she accepted who He was and what He had done for her.