The City Sinner and the Savior
An Intriguing Valentine’s Day Story for the Ages
Imagine being mentioned in the best-selling book in history, but the only title you are given is “a woman of the city who was a sinner”!
The backstory is this: In Luke 7, we find Jesus touring several small towns in Israel. He has just healed the servant of an important Roman officer and raised a young man from the dead in the village of Nain. So, although it was early in his ministry, his fame is peaking.
At this point, the religious leaders are more curious about Jesus than jealous of him, so one of the Pharisees, Simon, invites Jesus to his home.
As Jesus reclines at the table with several prominent personalities in this village, perhaps other Pharisees among them, the “sinner” (as she is known) suddenly enters. Trembling and without a word, she heads straight to the feet of Jesus.
At his very presence, she falls down, weeping as she washes his feet with her tears, her perfume, and her hair.
This is one of the most profound acts of worship ever recorded in Scripture. After 30 years of seeking to nurture a heart of worship, I confess, I have not begun to worship my Jesus as deeply as this “city sinner.”
I pray that in this Valentine’s season, your heart will be blessed through the lessons I have learned from her.
She was oblivious of everything but Jesus.
There she is—trembling, uninvited, in the house of her enemies and despisers. Throughout her whole adult life, they have called her a dog, trash, and much worse. They stare at her in disdain, cruelly whispering to each other as she sobs at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus begins engaging with Simon and challenging him. He takes time to tell an entire parable about a lender and debtors, eliciting a response to the story from his host. Then, Jesus starts referring directly to the woman at his feet, retelling her every action.
Yet throughout this entire exchange, the woman is oblivious to all else, aware of nothing and no one but Jesus. I can almost see Him now—His eyes misting as he looks at her and says, “from the time I came in, she has not ceased to kiss my feet.”
On the other hand, Simon and his guests were oblivious to the King Eternal, the Holy One of Israel, who broke bread and shared a dusty floor with them. They spoke to him as an equal. They judged him for tolerating the unashamed adoration of this woman of ill repute.
How often am I oblivious of all but Jesus? How often do I fall down before Him in trembling adoration and awe? When was the last time I wept in wonder at the passion of Almighty God who shed His blood to make His home within me?
An awareness of extraordinary, lavish mercy led her to extraordinary, lavish worship.
How tragic it is that the greatest gift of grace has been twisted by some into bare-boned moralism. It’s as if the Pharisees are still controlling much of the narrative today. Some make Christianity far more about keeping the “rules” for Jesus than about giving people hope in Jesus’ mercy and saving grace.
But ALL who long for perfect love and infinite mercy are welcome to come just as they are and bask in perfect love at the nail-pierced feet of Jesus.
Jesus’ warned the Pharisees, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” On the other hand, he beckoned the wounded and the wandering by saying, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
An awareness of extraordinary empathy led her to extraordinary worship.
There is no question that this woman had suffered horribly throughout her life. Tragically, the anguish of extreme poverty, abandonment, or abuse can often lead to desperate moral choices. Sometimes our pain causes us to try to distance ourselves from God’s presence. Sometimes it stirs up anger towards God.
Instead, she fell at Jesus’ feet in adoration. Why?
This is an analogy that has helped me personally and also enabled me to minister to people in anguish. On the cross, Jesus cradled the hand grenade of our pain and the unspeakable horrors of our broken planet. We still feel the impact, but He bore the fullness of the explosion—the horrific, eternal devastation of all evil and sorrow.
His compassionate, sacrificial shielding is why we are able to function at all. Somehow, this woman instinctively understood that Jesus was her wounded Healer and Savior. He swallowed her cup of earthly sorrows and offered her the cup of eternal salvation.
She worshiped him
with her fragrance and her tears.
The fragrance that flowed from her broken alabaster jar was likely her only treasure, her pearl of great price. She poured it all on Jesus with holy abandonment.
Her weeping was the overflow of years of sorrow, regret, and shame—the deep, cumulative brokenness of her life. She gave Him her treasure and her tears. Together, they comprised one of the most precious acts of worship recorded in Scripture. We all have treasure, and we all have unspeakable sorrow. When both are offered to Jesus, sweet, priceless fragrance rises to bless his heart.
What compelled her to such extravagant worship?
Last year I attended a mission’s conference in Florida. I met a team who rescue victims of sex trafficking. The founder of the ministry had once been a victim herself.
She shared with me something I will never forget. Those who work the streets (90% of whom are being trafficked) have a learned skill that is necessary for their survival. They are able to read the micro-emotions of those that they encounter. With a glance, they can read danger, disdain, lust, evil—and even goodness of heart—better than nearly anyone.
This is pure speculation, but I believe the “city sinner” was situated as many prostitutes are—in a place where she could catch the eye of potential customers. She probably had heard stories of Jesus, but when He walked through her town, her eyes locked with His, and she was smitten.
In that moment, she realized that perfect, holy, cherishing, eternal love was gazing through her. Jesus knew her from her mother’s womb, and with one look, he healed decades of sorrow. With one look, He made all things new.
This Valentine’s Day, turn your eyes upon Jesus—look more deeply than you ever have into His eyes of love. In this world of disappointment, deep loneliness, and relational devastation, I pray that you discover the ocean of perfect, holy, eternal love that ever surrounds and washes over you. That’s the difference between this woman and most of us. The difference between her worship and most of ours is that she looked full in His wonderful face.
“Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
These were the only words that we know Jesus spoke directly to His precious friend. How easy it is for us to forget the priceless treasure that Jesus is to us. What could one pay for forgiveness and peace? Yet Jesus purchased it for us. He drank the cup of wrath so he can give us the cup of joy, peace, and salvation.
Jesus did not give this woman a beautiful family, a new job, a home, or any of the things we have come to expect as followers of Christ. He gave himself—Savior, Prince of Peace, Comforter, Champion of Heaven.
Why don’t you take another few minutes to read and ponder for yourself the passage below that I’ve been writing about. Discover what it says to you. I pray that it blesses you as it did me.
One of the songs I’ve written is “Magnificent Obsession.” I find it interesting that “obsession” is often seen as a negative and often dangerous emotion—unless it is centered in Christ. He is calling us to put aside all that distracts us and fall at His feet again in adoration and awe.
I hope that this song of praise will lead you into worship of our Lord Jesus. Click here and then scroll down until you find “Magnificent Obsession.”
The City Sinner and the Savior
(Luke 7:36-47, 49-50, ESV)
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves,
“Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“Who IS this?”—precisely!
About the Author
David Beidel, for many years an urban pastor, is currently President of Urban Hope, founder of Saturate NYC, and cofounder of Jesus Week in New York City and beyond. He’s the author of Samaria: The Great Omission and Saturation: A Plan for Gospel Immersion; producer of Magnificent Obsession and Saturation (iTunes, Spotify under Saturate Worship); and the developer of SaturateNYC.app, a faith-based social service web/app.
His newest endeavor is The Kevlar Collective, a model for community healing, which focuses on creating just, safe, and holy sanctuaries in the housing projects of NYC by weaving and layering together churches, nonprofits, schools, public housing gatekeepers, police, and marketplace partners until a community is flourishing and bulletproof.
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