#Why She Loved Him So – The story of the Woman with the Alabaster Jar

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Tragically, we live in a world which permits and promotes the shaming and judging of women.  While men are often put on blast about their appearances, their lifestyles, and their choices in life, the full force of the shaming/judging paradigm is aimed towards women.  Whether it is the weight gained or lost, whether it is the choice of how we wear our hair, whether it is how we choose to dress, whether it is the unorthodox ways in which we choose to behave,  or even whether we are single, “hooked up” or married, there is big business in shaming women.  Print media, television, and the internet are consumed with putting women on blast.

Since each of us, as women, must carry with us the choices we have made in our lives, whether these choices are of our own choosing or were forced upon us, why does condemning and judging another woman, make us feel better or superior about ourselves? Why are we, as women, more susceptible of carrying guilt and shame about our lifestyle choices, than that of our male counterparts? Since nobody, except ourselves, knows the cost and the burden of carrying the guilt and shame of our choices in life, is it possible for us, as women, to live free from these damaging emotions, which others attempt to place upon us?  How and when can we unburden ourselves from the torment of this dysfunctional baggage, so that we may obtain the victorious lives which God intends for us ?  These and more questions are presented in one of the most beloved stories of the gospels about a woman who offered her alabaster jar to Jesus.

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Luke 7:36-50  (NRSV)

A Sinful Woman Forgiven

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus[a] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[b] and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus[c] said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward 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 has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

When we enter the social context of the New Testament times, we must remember that the paradigm of sin was completely different than what we understand as sin in our own lives.  As Christians, we are taught that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  In other words, none of us are without sin, except for Jesus.  Yet, in the times of Jesus, this ideology was not so.  Most Jews believed that it was possible to live sinless, if one was able to keep all  laws of the Torah.  The rabbis, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees believed they possessed the means to keep all of the 600 plus laws that were interpreted from the Torah.  If one was able to fully keep the Law, this person was without sin or “pure,” in the eyes of God.  While this construct seems completely foreign and unacceptable to the Christian understanding of sin, this was a completely acceptable and the traditional religious mindset of the Jewish faith.  Jews strove to be pure and without sin.  There were those who truly believed this ideal was possible, and that they were sinless and pure before God because they were able to keep all the laws of the Torah.    Because of this religious tradition,  shame, judgment, and condemnation was the order of the day – there were those who were sinless (pure) and those who were sinners (impure).

For women, keeping the law and being “pure” was nearly impossible.  The very nature of  feminine anatomy, i.e., menstruation, childbirth, and the “issues of blood,” automatically exempted ancient Jewish women from achieving the lofty goal of being “pure, sinless or holy (set apart).  Judgment, shame, and condemnation were exacted towards women, in part, because of these differences, and therefore, the Jewish religious traditions were highly patriarchal and biased against women from both a cultural and religious standpoint. (See example, the Leviticus household codes – Leviticus 15:19; Leviticus 15:20-23; Leviticus 15: 28-31)

In the story for our consideration, we encounter a woman who is called “sinful” by the evangelist Luke.  While Luke never designates what the sin of this woman actually was, there are contextual clues for the reader to weigh.  This woman enters the home of Simon, the leper, unchaperoned and uninvited.  The woman’s hair is unbound which was an act of grave immodesty.  The woman seems to lack the traditional attitudes and ways of feminine behavior, i.e., she ignores the greeting and niceties of the culture, by ignoring the host of the home.  With these contextual clues in place, the traditional read of the story is  this woman was a prostitute, even though Luke, the writer of the story, never makes this distinction.  (see “eisegesis” definition).

Eisegesis – the interpretation of a text (as in the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.

Exegesis – an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.

We can also assume from this woman’s actions, she is bold and even courageous.  She enters the home of Simon uninvited and unwelcomed.  She disrupts the banquet and she publicly behaves with seemingly improper, and even embarrassing intimacy.  The men in the room are completely aghast because this woman is acting with brazen audacity.  “Who does she think she is?”  “Why is she here?”  “Why is Jesus engaging her.”  “Jesus cannot be a prophet like they say he is because if he was, surely he would dismiss her from his presence.” The room is charged with righteous indignation, until Jesus calls Simon out.

The male audience at Simon’s house was witnessing authentic WORSHIP – the pouring out of everything this woman was and everything she had to give.  She was lost in worship right in front of these men.  The intimate worship of this unnamed woman was so unorthodox and so profoundly personal it made everyone in the room uncomfortable, except for her and Jesus.

The unnamed woman carried a phial of perfume around her neck.  Many Jewish women of this time wore small phials of perfume that contained concentrated oils.  These were called “alabasters.” Women used these oils to scent their hair, perfume their bodies, and to oil/anoint the bodies (including the feet) of their husbands and guests.  The neck of the alabaster box was so narrow that in order to release the perfume, the neck was broken and then the oil was poured out onto the guest. The metaphor speaks here, at this juncture in the text,  because this woman gives over her brokenness to Jesus and pours out  worship upon her Savior.  The men in the room do not understand what they are witnessing and so they become enraged at her actions.

Yet, Jesus makes a departure from this woman’s assumed social location and actions that shock and dismay the host of the banquet.  In his typical teaching style, Jesus offers Simon, the leper, a short parable.  Jesus forces Simon to locate himself in the parable by asking him this question: “Now which of them will love him more?”  Reading Simon like the pious hypocrite he was, Jesus answers:  “You have judged rightly.”  Simon, in judging the woman, has instead judged himself.  Jesus, by endorsing the woman’s actions as love, worship, humility, and repentance eliminates those, including Simon, who sought to judge and condemn her.  Instead of judging her, He allows all of her shame, humiliation, and guilt to be laid at His feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”  The alienation, judgment, and condemnation of her social location as a “sinful woman,” is transformed because of Jesus’ love, compassion, and saving grace for her, and her expressed love for Him.  She is restored to her rightful position as a redeemed daughter of the Most High God: ” And He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 

This woman teaches her audience, both ancient and contemporary, that it is only in authentic worship, directed by faith, when we release our brokenness to Jesus, that we are truly transformed to a state of healing, forgiveness,  wellness, prosperity, and peace (the shalom of God).

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

The title of our study is:  “Why She Loved Him So.”  One of the many questions that emerges from the story for us is this:  Why did this woman love Jesus so and why did she act in the manner in which she did?

A metaphorical reading of the text concentrates on the alabaster jar. Similar to the woman who carried her water pot to the well to meet with Jesus, this woman carries the shame, guilt, and humiliation of her life decisions, just like she carries the alabaster jar around her neck.  Everywhere she goes, this emotional baggage comes with her, and the judgment and condemnation which follows her is unbearable until she releases it.  The alabaster jar acts as a double irony –  it is both the burden and the blessing.

In the text Jesus asks Simon: “Do you see this woman?”  The rhetorical answer to the question is, “No.”  Simon, the leper, an impure, unclean and sinful person himself, does NOT see the woman clearly – he only judges and condemns her.  Instead, Jesus really sees her – Jesus really sees her pain, guilt, shame, and humiliation of a lifestyle of wrong choices and decisions, and sets her free from her past with all the love, compassion, and mercy of a holy and righteous Savior.  The woman participates in her own healing, as she realizes that she must present her brokenness to Jesus.  Only Jesus can set her free and only she can willingly lay her sin and angst at His feet.

Jesus also “reads” Simon, the leper, with the same indignation which Simon imposes upon the woman.  Luke reminds us that Simon is a leper.  Lepers were considered as impure and unclean in the Jewish tradition. Lepers were “sinners” under the Law because of a chronically unclean, impure condition.  Luke forces us to locate ourselves with Simon, if we will not see ourselves as the sinful woman.  In the eyes of Jesus, both are sinful and impure – yet the one who shows her love to Jesus with humility and repentance is the one whom Jesus loves more.  The text teaches us that we have no right to judge and condemn each other.  We all have sinned and all of us have fallen short in the eyes of God.  Most importantly, despite our life experiences, decisions, and choices, when we repent and ask for forgiveness, it is graciously given by our Savior, the Christ, who loves us in spite of our flaws and imperfections.

Ultimately, the reasons why the woman loved Jesus is because He first loved her and, because at the feet of her Savior, she was provided the blessed opportunity to unburden all which she had carried (guilt, shame, humiliation, loss, disappointment, and so many other burdens) for the redemption and the new life offered by Jesus:  “Go in peace.”

Questions for our study and consideration:

Why does condemning and judging another woman, make us feel better or superior about ourselves?

“You weren’t there the night He found me, You did not feel what I felt when He wrapped His love all around me – and, you don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.” (lyrics from Alabaster Box) – What does this lyric mean against the story we have just study.  Let’s unpack this.?

If we do not believe this woman was a prostitute in the story, what other condition(s) could she have suffered to make her act in the way in which she acted in the story?

This woman walked away as victorious and redeemed.  What does the process of “laying down our burdens” look like?  How does laying our burdens at the feet of Jesus change our lives for the better?

Final Considerations

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12: 31-32)

OUR SENDING PRAYER

Dear God,

There is none like You.  From the rising of the sun until the going down of the same, Your name is worthy to be praised.  Return me to Your light.  As I now give to You who I am, what I did, and where I failed, please make all things right.  I surrender all to You.  May only love remain.  Amen.

The enclosed materials are the property of Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment study.  They may be used by you with our permission which may be revoked at any time.  All copies of the material must include the following notice:

“This material is Copyright 2016 by Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

 

 

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