The New Testament is peopled with a host of interesting and intriguing people who pop in and out of the narrative either acting upon or reacting to the Gospel. Some of these characters we know almost nothing about, yet they play key roles in our understanding the impact of the Gospel in the lives of Christians throughout the ages.
One such person is the mysterious woman with the Alabaster flask who anoints Jesus feet with her tears and precious perfume at the dinner party Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to attend. We know almost nothing about this woman. Luke doesn’t tell us her name, city of birth, how she found her way to Simon’s house, let alone how she managed to get so close to Jesus without Simon’s servants sending her away from his home. All that Luke tells us is that she was from the city and that she was a sinner.
The woman most certainty had a bad reputation, but how she got that reputation we don’t know or need to know. Many Christians have conjectured she was a prostitute, but that is unfair to the woman because Luke doesn’t tell us anything about her past, only that when she found herself standing at the feet of Jesus this woman began to cry and her tears rolled down across her cheeks and fell onto the feet of Jesus. Falling upon her knees, she broke the neck of the Alabaster flask letting the sweet aroma explode into the room, she began pouring this costly and soothing perfume over the feet of Jesus, all the while kissing his feet over and over. Suddenly, realizing there was nothing to dry Jesus feet with, she did the unthinkable and let down her hair to use as a towel. This act was considered so outrageous in the Palestinian culture that even many husbands had never seen their wives with their hair down, but to let it down in public was a scandal that would set tongues wagging throughout the city.
I’m sure the dinner guests, after their initial surprise and astonishment at the woman’s behavior, waited with more than a little curiosity to see how Jesus would react to this sinner woman’s presumption to invade his dinner and carry out such an unorthodox anointing. But Jesus said nothing to the woman because He knew what her act of devotion and love was costing her. Besides, the breaking of taboos regarding women touching men, letting her hair down in public, and invading Simon’s house exposing him to ritual uncleanness, she had brought her all to Jesus.
A single woman spent much of her time and money collecting these rich perfumes because they were part of the dowry that must be brought to the wedding. On the night of the marriage the bride would break the neck off the bottle of perfume and pour it over the feet of her groom anointing him the lord of her life and she would love him forever, and that now he would be her riches. Now this sinner woman was pouring the perfume of her dowry, her future happiness over the feet of Jesus and claiming Him as her groom. She was pledging her unending love and loyalty to Him and a promise that she would never forsake Him or abandon Him. With a broken heart the woman came to Jesus not to seek assurance of salvation, but to thank Him for her salvation and the newness of life that He freely gave to her.
Once again Luke is silent on how she heard the good news, but it had obviously touched her heart and changed her life because she came seeking Jesus bringing with her the Alabaster flask that contained all her future hopes and dreams and she poured them out on the feet of Jesus. In a short time Jesus would pour Himself out for all humanity on a cross at Calvary that we all could bask in the glory of His grace. If Simon thought Jesus would harshly rebuke the woman he was wrong, and after giving Simon a lesson contrasting this woman’s love for Him and Simon’s own neglectful and disrespectful treatment of Jesus he turned to the woman and said, “your sins are forgiven.”
No, we don’t know the name of this woman and regardless of all the speculation that she was this Mary or that Mary, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a woman who carried the stigma of “sinner” around her neck had her life changed and rebuilt by the grace and love of Jesus. Her past couldn’t keep her away from Jesus, the taboos of her culture couldn’t keep her from Jesus and the gatekeepers of religion, like Simon, couldn’t keep her from Jesus. She brought her future, her dreams, her all to Jesus and put them at His feet because Calvary was the open door to reconciliation with God and in the nail pierced hands and feet of Jesus she found her way back to her real home in the arms of God.