The Unworthy Woman

Luke 7:36-50 “And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”

The story of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed His feet with precious ointment, took place during Jesus’ first tour of Galilee and at the home of Simon the Pharisee. It is one of the most touching stories in Scripture both for what it shows of the woman’s love for Jesus, and for what it shows of His love for her.

We are not told the woman’s name or anything about her, other than that she was a sinner, though her sins must have been public and well-known. Simon knew of her and thought in his self-righteousness that Jesus should have had nothing to do with such a woman. That He allowed her to touch Him was proof to Simon that He was not the Messiah.

It is a good thing that we do not know much about her. Not knowing her actual sins or even her name, we who are also sinners are better able to identify with her and to see in her an example of what Jesus, our Savior has done for us. To us, too, as sinners, He has said, “Thy sins are forgiven,” and sent us away in peace.

That God’s Word calls this woman a sinner, does not mean that her sins were not forgiven or that she was no different from Simon. Simon was guilty of showing no love for Jesus, a crime at least as great as the sins of this woman, though Simon thought himself ever so much better than her.

It is of no value, however, to compare the sins of Simon and of this woman. The difference between them is not in the seriousness of their sin – all sin is worthy of eternal punishment – but in their attitude toward their sin. There are really only two kinds of sinners, those who know themselves to be sinners, and those who do not.

The second kind are always convinced of their own righteousness. The first kind know that they have no righteousness and will perish forever if God does not forgive them. The woman is of the first kind, Simon of the second. The first kind are always forgiven, the second kind never are.

The second kind are those who think that God cannot possibly send them to hell because they are decent, law-abiding people, who are helpful to others, who work hard, who do their best to raise their families well, and who do not fall into gross sins. They are convinced that ordinary human goodness is all they need.

The first kind are those who know that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23), and that God is not satisfied with our best efforts. They know that in the eyes of God, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3), and they see themselves as the chief of sinners. The second kind are those who, like the Jews, think they are better than this woman and others like her, and are always ready to condemn others.

That this woman was conscious of her sinfulness is evident from the story. Her tears show us that, as do the words of Jesus. He knew that she was crying about her sins and was sorry for them when He spoke to her of forgiveness. He knew that she recognized in Him the only hope for herself, a poor and unworthy sinner.

That she knew her sinfulness and saw her unworthiness was the result of God’s grace in Christ. There can be little doubt that she was among the people who are mentioned in verse 29, who had heard the preaching of Jesus and seen the miracles which are recorded in this chapter. And through it all her heart had been changed and her eyes opened.

The miracles of Jesus had shown her that she needed a miracle of grace to heal her sin-sick soul – that like the widow of Nain’s son, she was dead “in trespasses in sins” (Eph. 2:1) and that only Jesus could raise her. Through the preaching of Jesus she had learned that He was “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Lk. 7:34).

The grace that opened her eyes to her sinfulness was the grace that had already forgiven her sins. Jesus really says, “thy sins have been forgiven.” Though Jesus had not yet suffered and died for the sins of His people, it was the promise of His precious shed blood which guaranteed both her repentance and her forgiveness.

What a contrast her love for Jesus is to Simon’s coldness and indifference! He had no reason to love Jesus, since he had experienced nothing of God’s forgiving grace and did not even see the need for it. She had seen something of her need for Jesus and of His love for her, and showed her love for Him in the very heart- warming way that is described here.

The ointment that she poured on Jesus’ feet may have been a left-over from her previous life, but it was the most valuable thing she owned, kept in an alabaster box. Her love for Him was a love, therefore, that acknowledged that she was not her own, but belonged to Him with all that she had – that He was her Lord.

What a beautiful reminder this is of the need for repentance, for it is our tears of sorrow for sin that show God’s grace already working in us and our guarantee of forgiveness! What a wonderful proof this is that a broken spirit and a contrite heart are acceptable to God, not because they are worth anything in themselves, but because they were purchased by the blood of His Son.

What a wonderful encouragement this is to believe that those who see their sins and are sorry for them will never be turned away by the Savior, but can come to Him expecting that He will speak peace and blessing to them! What an amazing thing it is, having heard His word of forgiveness, to go in peace!

What an important Word of God this is for us, showing us that God’s forgiving grace always produces in us a love for God and for Jesus that is like the love of this poor sinner – public, unashamed, a love that wants to use what is most valuable for Him and that honors Him with everything it has! It is much bigger than Simon’s love because it is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the work of our Savior and His Spirit.


“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”

Written by: Pastor Ronald Hanko | Issue 9