Mary, the sister of Martha and the resurrected Lazarus, worshipped Jesus extravagantly.
“Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). Mary’s story occurred in the village of Bethany toward the conclusion of Jesus earthly ministry. Her story is also recorded by Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9).
A similar episode occurred in the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, probably in the village of Nain (Luke 7:11). “Then one of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume” (Luke 7:36-38).
Like Mary, this unnamed woman sacrificed a treasured bottle of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus, wiping Christ’s feet with her unfurled locks. Unlike Mary, this woman was a “sinner,” perhaps a prostitute who had sold her body for the pleasures of men, maybe some seated at the table with Jesus.
The self-righteous Simon, a member of the hyper-religious Pharisees, was indignant! When he “saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him’ ” (Luke 7:39, NLT).
At this, Jesus told a parable.
“A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both” (Luke 7:41-42).
The banker had two customers. One owed “five hundred denarii” or about two-years’ wages… let’s say eighty thousand dollars. The other customer owed “fifty” denarii, or about eight thousand dollars. Both customers were drowning in debt. Neither customer could repay the amount they owed so the banker graciously forgave their obligations. He marked the loan documents as “paid in full” and then burned them!
And then Jesus asked sanctimonious Simon, “ ‘which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one he forgave more’ ” (Luke 7:42-43). Right! Of course. Obviously.
Jesus then turned His attention to the woman, her hair matted and oily, her face shining with delight. After acknowledging the grand measures of her extravagant worship, Jesus looked into the shimmering eyes of the wanton woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). Peace, once elusive, was hers forever.
While the woman left forgiven, Simon and his cohorts were left shaking their heads. Who, they wondered, is this Teller of these convicting and condemning parables? “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49).
I imagine that they silently wondered… Does He somehow know my secret sins? Would He, could He, forgive my undisclosed transgressions of the law?