How could she get close to Jesus, close enough to demonstrate her new love for him? She thought once again of those words - “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”; a friend of sinners! They were life to her – but how could she thank Jesus? He moved around so much, always followed by a huge crowd. Once he'd finished teaching, he would be gone. And now the crowd was on the move – Jesus was going. Her hope faded. Her spirits sank. But then she heard the news as it came back through the crowd – Jesus was staying to eat in the town! There might still be time to do something, anything to show her love. But where was he staying? Who was he going to eat with? She strained desperately to hear, afraid of asking anyone else, afraid of the contempt and hatred reserved for sinners. Finally she heard. The Pharisee's house. Simon the Pharisee. At first, her indignation rose – how could he go there? He was the friend of sinners, not Pharisees. Had he changed? Had he lied?
Almost as quickly, despair settled over her – being part of a crowd was bad enough. At least she could stay at the back, out of sight, simply listening. But to go to any house, let alone a Pharisee's house... And yet, she remembered the words she had heard Jesus say - “a friend of sinners”. She had never before known such hope, such love. Was that hope, that love, enough to overcome her fear and shame?
Simon was delighted. Jesus had accepted his invitation to dinner. Now was his chance to find out more about this man. He had heard a good deal about him, and some of his friends had serious doubts, but Simon wanted to know for himself. Of course, it was risky to invite this man, renowned for eating with sinners, to his house for a meal, but he managed to negotiate that by treating him with a certain coolness. Dinner, yes, but none of the usual hospitality. Simon wanted to ensure none of his colleagues would have any reason to doubt his credentials as a Pharisee. And everything was going well so far. Jesus hadn't said anything about the lack of water for his feet, and the meal was good. It was a bit frustrating to have so many others in the house, but that was the price of having Jesus there. Suddenly there was a commotion. Something was going on in the crowd, people were shifting around, the noise was rising – and then she came in. Simon was dumbfounded. She knew this was wrong. She knew she shouldn't be here. He looked at Jesus – how would he respond. This was the time to find out what he was really like.
She stood there, overwhelmed with what she had just done. She was exhausted from her run home to get her perfume jar, and having to fight through the crowd. And there was Jesus. She heard the murmurings and anger of the crowd, felt the shock and distaste of Simon, but all her focus was on Jesus. She remembered once more his words - “friend of sinners, friend of sinners”.
As she stood looking at him, she knew the words were true. All her life, as long as she knew, she had been a sinner. The name had been spat at her so many times. But here, now, she felt the change. She knew the change. She was a friend, she had a friend. And the tears poured out, tears of love for her friend, the friend of sinners. The tears fell on his feet, so she dried them, kissed them, and poured out all her perfume on them.
Simon could not believe his eyes. Jesus had done nothing – he hadn't even said a word. Didn't he know who this woman was? Everyone else did – and none of them were prophets. How could a man supposed to be a prophet allow this to happen? That was all he needed to know. Thank goodness he hadn't shown any kindness to Jesus – he would have been the laughing stock of the town – the Pharisee who promoted sin! But now he had to get himself out of the situation. Should he loudly condemn Jesus, so the crowd would know his own thoughts? Should he let it pass, then tell the other Pharisees, so they could avoid similar embarrassment? He could deal with the sinner later, but how to deal with Jesus? Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted. Jesus was asking him a question. What should he do? Should he answer? But would that be right? Could he talk to someone who was so careless about sin? But to ignore him would be too much. Failing to wash his feet was one thing – ignoring a guest was impossible. Well, then – acknowledge the question, but make sure everyone knows what you think of him...
The woman hung on every word of Jesus' story. She knew all about being a debtor – how could she forget, with everyone reminding her every day? But when Jesus said “he forgave the debts of both”, her heart sang. She felt once again the joy of that forgiveness, the joy of knowing her identity was no longer “sinner” but “friend”.
Simon grudgingly looked at the woman. Yes, he saw that woman. That woman who had wrecked his dinner with Jesus. That woman who had shown up his lack of hospitality. That woman who might well have ruined his reputation. But he looked again, and saw the joy etched on her face. And he suddenly realised that she knew Jesus. This whole meal he had desperately tried to find Jesus out, to see whether he was friend or foe, but she – she knew.
The crowd also looked on at this scene. Some rejoiced, knowing for themselves the joy of forgiveness from Jesus. Others were as astonished as Simon. But then came the greatest shock of all: “Your sins are forgiven”. All thoughts of “Teacher” or “Prophet” went out of the window. No doubt, Jesus was wise – and who could deny the skill of the parable he had told to Simon. But to forgive sins? Who could do such a thing? And what had the woman done to deserve such forgiveness? She should have been punished for the things she had just done. Perhaps if Simon had been kind, he might have let her off, handed her over to God's judgment maybe... But for Jesus to forgive – who is this man?
Who is this man? Perhaps you know him as the teacher, who showed such wisdom in his parable. Perhaps you know him as the prophet, who could tell Simon's thoughts. But he is more than both these – he is the forgiving God, the friend of sinners. Do you know him as this? Do you know his forgiveness?
"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. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."