Another nameless woman

Do Not Depart recently had a wonderful series called Nameless Women in the Gospels about, well, just that. It was a very nice series. The treatment of women in the Gospels is really special.

But, … they missed out both of my favourites!

One of these favourites provided the url for this blog:

36 One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at the table. 37 Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that he was reclining in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 Standing behind at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what kind of woman this is who touches him, that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

He said, “Teacher, say on.”

41 “A certain lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they couldn’t pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”

43 Simon answered, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”

He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” 48 He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 Those who sat at the table with him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”


I wasn’t brought up religious, and the first time I read the Bible properly (just the New Testament) was over the summer of 2008. Much of it was completely new to me.

This story, I cried the first few times I read it, and it is still powerful for me.

Needless to say perhaps: reading the passage, I see myself as the woman at his feet.

Reflecting now, four things strike me about the story:

  1. First and foremost Jesus is the woman’s protector. Jesus protects the woman from the sneering Pharisee, and by implication from all the others.
  2. Second, it doesn’t matter what she did, what her sin was, or what she thought it was, or what the Pharisee thought it was, or what Luke thought it was. Jesus protects her from all those people: yes, even from Luke (do-gooders can be worse than the Pharisees); yes, even from herself (sometimes our worst Pharisee is ourself). Maybe it’s something horrible; something stupid; maybe it’s nothing much at all. Jesus doesn’t ask. Jesus doesn’t “understand”. It doesn’t matter. [chin-wobbly even writing this.]
  3. Third, Jesus does not forgive the woman. Jesus does not say anything like, “I, now, forgive you.” He says the woman’s *sins*, *are forgiven* [ἀφέωνται]. It’s strangely separate from Jesus, the woman, and from time. Forgiveness is not something Jesus does to the woman there and then: she was filthy and now she’s clean. She was never filthy. Jesus is reminding her that she was fine all along. The sins don’t need to contaminate her: they are forgiven, — remember? — they can be washed away.
  4. Finally, the woman’s own attitude. The overwhelming relief that comes with finding protection. She’s been fighting for so long.
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  1. This has to be one of the more powerful stories in the New Testament. I’m glad you shared it and your thoughts on four things about it. Jesus as “protector” is a very moving image and reality to me….

    “The overwhelming relief that comes with finding protection.”


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