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The Woman Who Washed Jesus’ Feet

The Woman Who Washed Jesus’ Feet

Before you begin

Read Luke 7:36–39Luke 7:47 NLT

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard He was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind Him at His feet, weeping. Her tears fell on His feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing His feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman is touching Him. She’s a sinner!”

“I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown Me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

Could two people be more different? He is looked up to. She is looked down on. He is a church leader. She is a streetwalker. He makes a living promoting standards. She’s made a living breaking them. He’s hosting the party. She’s crashing it.

Ask the other residents of Capernaum to point out the more pious of the two, and they’ll pick Simon. Why, after all, he’s a student of theology, a man of the cloth. Anyone would pick him. Anyone, that is, except Jesus.

  • Jesus knew them both and picked the woman.

What’s more, He tells Simon why.

Simon is angry. Just look at her — groveling at Jesus’ feet. Kissing them, no less! Why, if Jesus were who He says He is, He would have nothing to do with this woman.

One of the lessons Simon learned that day was this: Don’t think thoughts you don’t want Jesus to hear. For Jesus heard them, and when He did, He chose to share a few of His own.

“Simon,” He said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people — 500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer Me water to wash the dust from My feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet Me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing My feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint My head, but she has anointed My feet with rare perfume.
“I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown Me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Luke 7:40–47 NLT


Simon invites Jesus to His house but treats him like an unwanted step uncle. No customary courtesies. Or, in modern terms, no one opened the door for Him, took His coat, or shook His hand.

Simon does nothing to make Jesus feel welcome. The woman, however, does everything that Simon didn’t. We aren’t told her name. Just her reputation — a sinner. A prostitute most likely. She has no invitation to the party and no standing in the community.

But people’s opinions didn’t stop her from coming. It’s not for them she has come. It’s for Him. Her every move is measured and meaningful. Each gesture extravagant. She puts her cheek to his feet, still dusty from the path. She has no water, but she has tears. She has no towel, but she has her hair. She uses both to bathe the feet of Christ. As one translation reads, “she rained tears” on His feet (v. 44 MSG). She opens a vial of perfume, perhaps her only possession of worth, and massages it into His skin. The aroma is as inescapable as the irony.

You’d think Simon of all people would show such love. Is he not the reverend of the church, the student of Scripture? But he is harsh, distant. You’d think the woman would avoid Jesus. Simon’s “love” is calibrated and stingy.

  • Her love, on the other hand, is extravagant and risky.

How do we explain the difference between the two? Training? Education? Money? No, for Simon has outdistanced her in all three.

But there is one area in which the woman leaves Him eating dust. Think about it. What one discovery has she made that Simon hasn’t? What one treasure does she cherish that Simon doesn’t? Simple. God’s love. We don’t know when she received it. We aren’t told how she heard about it. Did she overhear Jesus’ words “your Father is merciful”? (Luke 6:36 ESV). Was she nearby when Jesus had compassion on the widow of Nain? Did someone tell her how Jesus touched lepers and turned tax collectors into disciples? We don’t know. But we know this. She came thirsty. Thirsty from guilt. Thirsty from regret. Thirsty from countless nights of making love and finding none. She came thirsty.

  • And when Jesus hands her the goblet of grace, she drinks.

She doesn’t just taste or nip. She doesn’t dip her finger and lick it or take the cup and sip it. She lifts the liquid to her lips and drinks, gulping and swallowing like the parched pilgrim she is. She drinks until the mercy flows down her chin and onto her neck and chest. She drinks until every inch of her soul is moist and soft. She comes thirsty and she drinks. She drinks deeply.

Simon, on the other hand, doesn’t even know he is thirsty. People like Simon don’t need grace; they analyze it. They don’t request mercy; they debate and prorate it. It wasn’t that Simon couldn’t be forgiven; he just never asks to be.

So while she drinks up, he puffs up. While she has ample love to give, he has no love to offer. Why? The 7:47 Principle. Read again verse 47 of Luke chapter 7:

A person who is forgiven little shows only little love.

Just like the jumbo jet, the 7:47 Principle has wide wings. Just like the aircraft, this truth can lift you to another level. Read it one more time. “A person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (NLT). In other words,

  • we can’t give what we’ve never received. If we’ve never received love, how can we love others?

But, oh, how we try! As if we can conjure up love by the sheer force of will. As if there is within us a distillery of affection that lacks only a piece of wood or a hotter fire. We poke it and stoke it with resolve. What’s our typical strategy for treating a troubled relationship? Try harder.

“My spouse needs my forgiveness? I don’t know how, but I’m going to give it.”
“I don’t care how much it hurts, I’m going to be nice to that bum.”
“I’m supposed to love my neighbor? Okay. By golly, I will.”

So we try. Teeth clinched. Jaw firm. We’re going to love if it kills us! And it may do just that.

Could it be we are missing a step? Could it be that the first step of love is not toward them but toward Him? Could it be that the secret to loving is receiving? You give love by first receiving it.

We love, because He first loved us.1 John 4:19 NASB

Long to be more loving? Begin by accepting your place as a dearly loved child.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Ephesians 5:1–2 NIV

Want to learn to forgive? Then consider how you’ve been forgiven.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.Ephesians 4:32 NIV

Finding it hard to put others first? Think of the way Christ put you first.

Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Philippians 2:6 NLT

Need more patience? Drink from the patience of God (2 Peter 3:9). Is generosity an elusive virtue? Then consider how generous God has been with you (Romans 5:8). Having trouble putting up with ungrateful relatives or cranky neighbors? God puts up with you when you act the same.

He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.Luke 6:35 NIV

Can’t we love like this?

Not without God’s help we can’t. Oh, we may succeed for a time. We, like Simon, may open a door. But our relationships need more than a social gesture. Some of our spouses need a foot washing. A few of our friends need a flood of tears. Our children need to be covered in the oil of our love.

But if we haven’t received these things ourselves, how can we give them to others? Apart from God, “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). A marriage-saving love is not within us. A friendship-preserving devotion cannot be found in our hearts. We need help from an outside source. A transfusion. Would we love as God loves? Then we start by receiving God’s love.

The secret to loving is living loved. This is the forgotten first step in relationships. Remember Paul’s prayer?

Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.Ephesians 3:17 NLT

As a tree draws nutrients from the soil, we draw nourishment from the Father. But what if the tree has no contact with the soil?

Many people tell us to love. Only God gives us the power to do so.

We know what God wants us to do.

This is what God commands:... that we love each other.1 John 3:23 NCV

But how can we? How can we be kind to the vow breakers? To those who are unkind to us? How can we be patient with people who have the warmth of a vulture and the tenderness of a porcupine? How can we forgive the moneygrubbers and backstabbers we meet, love, and marry? How can we love as God loves? We want to. We long to. But how can we?

By living loved. By following the 7:47 Principle: receive first, love second.

Excerpted with permission from They Walked with God by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

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Your Turn

The woman who sacrificed her precious perfume knew the love of Jesus. Do you love Him back with that kind of wildness? We can't pour from an empty cup... Let yourself be loved by Him! Come share your thoughts. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily