WHILE JESUS was passing through southern Galilee, in one place a Pharisee named Simon invited him to his house for dinner. The Pharisees, you remember, were people who were supposed to be very religious, because they carefully followed all the rules about praying at regular hours every day, whether on the street or in their homes; fasting, or not taking food, on certain days; going to church three times every week, and doing many things to be seen by others, while they were often sharp and hard in their dealings with men. They seemed to be good, but often were not as good as they seemed. Everywhere the Pharisees were at heart enemies of Jesus. They watched him, but in no friendly spirit.
This Pharisee, Simon, wished to know Jesus and to talk with him, although he did not believe in him. But he felt that Jesus, being only a common carpenter who had turned Rabbi, or teacher, was below himself in rank; and he did not treat him with respect. When a great man came to the house, the servants took off his sandals and washed his feet; they dressed his hair and poured fragrant oil upon his head. None of these things had Simon done to Jesus. He merely invited him to his house, and without even giving him water to wash his feet, all dusty with walking, he pointed him to his place at the table.
In that land people did not sit down upon chairs at dinner. Around the table were placed couches or lounges, and on these the guests reclined, half lying and half sitting, their heads toward the table and their feet away from it. They could reach the table and help themselves to food or drink. Very little meat was eaten; and before being placed upon the table, it was always cut into small pieces, so that the guests needed no knives or forks. After each course of the meal, a servant passed around a bowl of water and a towel, and washed the hands of the guests.
While Jesus, and perhaps his disciples with him, were at the table during the dinner, people were coming in and going out freely. Soon a woman came in, looked around, saw Jesus, and went toward the couch whereon he was lying. In her hand was a jar of fragrant oil. She broke the jar, not waiting to take out the stopple, and poured the oil upon his feet. She wiped his feet with her long flowing hair; she wept over them, dropping her many tears upon his feet; and she kissed them over and over again.
All the people of that place knew who this woman was, and knew the life that she had lived. She had not been a good woman, but had been wicked, and was despised by all respectable people. Simon the Pharisee wondered that Jesus should allow such a woman to touch him. He thought within himself, though he did not say it aloud :
“This man cannot be a prophet, as they say he is; for if he were a prophet he would know what a vile creature this woman is, and he would not permit her hands to touch even his feet.”
Jesus read the thoughts of the Pharisee, for he could look down into his mind. He said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Well, Teacher,” answered Simon, “say it.”
Then Jesus said, “There was a lender of money, to whom two persons owed a debt. One owed him five hundred pieces of silver and the other owed him fifty. Neither of these two men could pay his debt; and so the money lender let them both go free. Tell me now, Simon, which of those two men will love this man the most?”
“I suppose,” answered Simon, “the man who had the most forgiven.”
“You are right,” said Jesus. Then he turned toward the woman, and went on, still speaking to Simon. “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you never even gave me water for my feet; but see, she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them dry with her hair. You never gave me a kiss of welcome; but this woman ever since she came in has been pressing kisses upon my feet. You never anointed my head with oil; but she has poured perfume over my feet. Therefore I tell you, Simon, that many as her sins have been, they are forgiven, for her love is great; while he to whom little is forgiven loves only a little.”
Then he spoke to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Those at the table began to whisper to one another,
“Who is this that claims the right to forgive sins?”
But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
After this he went on visiting the villages and telling the people the good news of the Kingdom of God. With him were his twelve chosen disciples. Besides these men were some women whom Jesus had cured of different diseases. One was Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out no less than seven evil spirits. Another was Joanna, the wife of a nobleman named Chuza, who was a high officer in the court of King Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Another was named Susanna; and with these were a number of other women. Some of these were rich, and gave freely of their money to help Jesus.