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 7:37-38 (CSB)
Does any other physical sign show brokenness like weeping? The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume in Luke 7 shows how beautiful our brokenness can be. She knew she was a sinner, and so did everyone else in the room. She was known for her sins all over town, making her a social outcast. But her brokenness didn’t keep her from Jesus. She knew she would not be cast out with Him. She knew He was the One who would save her.
Desperate to show her gratitude, she brought an incredibly expensive bottle of perfume and anointed her Lord. The aroma no doubt filled the noses of everyone in the room while her weeping filled their ears. Her actions in this moment would have seemed improper to everyone watching, but she clearly did not mind. Unlike those around her, she understood the debt Jesus forgave, and this made her courageous in front of those who would usually make her hang her head in shame. She was no longer overcome with brokenness but with gratitude. Her brokenness became beautiful when she encountered her Lord.
The Pharisee who was hosting Jesus for dinner that night did not see this brokenness and courage as a beautiful thing, however. He didn’t immediately understand Jesus’ response to this woman. Doesn’t Jesus know what a sinner she is?, he wondered. How dare she carry on that way? How dare He let her do so? Given her reputation around town, doesn’t He know what this looks like?
Jesus answered with a parable of two forgiven debtors, one who owed much more than the other. His story made sense of why the woman was so emotional, and also why Jesus accepted her grand display of gratitude as a beautiful gift instead of a waste of money or an improper gesture.
Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 7:44-48 (CSB)
The woman knew her sins well; she knew just how much mercy she’d been given. And she wanted to lavish that same amount of love back onto the One who’d freed her. But the Pharisee, unsure of Jesus’ power and perhaps unwilling to admit the depth of his own sins, hadn’t experienced that same grace and therefore could not comprehend offering adoration with such abandon. Jesus’ take on things pinpointed the problem: the Pharisee couldn’t express an overwhelming level of love because he had not experienced that level of forgiveness.
In our so-called polite society, emotional displays are often sneered at, judged as messy and unnecessary, or even offensive. That wide brush paints all sorts of behaviors as “too much,” whether it comes in the form of hands raised too high during worship, off-key voices singing too loudly, a flood of tears pouring out during a sermon, or exclamations of “praise Jesus” in average conversations.
But why? Why do we value the reserved responses to Jesus and ridicule the expressive ones? Is it only that the noisy, wet sounds of weeping offend our sense of modesty and propriety, or could it also be that it forces us to confront our own mess? That it brings us face to face with our own shame, our own hidden sin, removing our ability to pretend as if we’re doing just fine by ourselves? Does encountering someone who radiates joy and praise make us uncomfortable because we secretly wish that were true of us? Does witnessing an overtly enthusiastic exchange of shame and guilt for mercy and grace make it clear that we are missing something? That perhaps we’ve gotten it all wrong?
When the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home, he probably expected to impress the teacher with a delicious dinner, beautiful presentation, or prominent dinner companions. He stood tall and proud, adopting the posture of judge and jury when the sinful woman dared to enter his home, kneel behind Jesus, and offer all she had. Instead, Jesus turned toward this woman, prostrate with her messy display of unfettered emotion and raised her up as an example. He accepted her offering and assured her of His mercy and forgiveness.
Can you recall the last time you wept? Do you remember the circumstances that brought you to your knees either literally or figuratively? Did you feel relief as you let go of any pretense that you were okay, as you confessed with your tears that you needed comfort or forgiveness?
No matter what you are holding onto or hiding deep within your heart today, you are invited to bring it to Jesus. Our Savior will take it from you and turn everything hard and bitter and ugly into something lovely and beautiful and pleasing.