Unnamed Heroines of Scripture: The Woman Whose Sins Were Many

She steals into the story unbidden. Her presence is unwelcome. Her name is never disclosed. But this most unlikely woman reveals to us the heart of a true worshipper.

In a society which demeaned women and considered their testimony invalid, the Gospels present women as the great examples of true worshippers. To the disreputable woman at the well in John 4, the Lord gave the great discourse on true worship. In John 12, in an act of pure devotion, Mary anointed Christ’s feet for burial, as she alone anticipated His death. It was women who funded the Lord’s ministry. It was women who were first to the tomb on resurrection morning. So, in Luke 7 it is an anonymous woman who demonstrates what it means to truly worship Christ.

Her past is shrouded in mystery. No doubt her life once seemed promising and full of hope. But wrong choices, bad relationships, or perhaps misfortune had brought her a life full of emptiness, shame and guilt. She was well known in the town for her lifestyle. Even the ultra-religious Simon knew she was a “sinner” (likely a euphemism for her life of prostitution). She knew all about loneliness and rejection, but she carried with her the guilt of her own sin.

Then one day she met the Lord. His words were kind; His eyes reflected genuine love. He was seeking out repentant sinners to be forgiven. We are not told of the Lord’s earlier encounter with this woman. No doubt He revealed that He came to take away her sins. Whatever the encounter, this guilt-ridden woman had trusted the Lord and knew the joy of being forgiven.

Our story commences with the Lord in the house of Simon reclining at dinner. In that culture, people ate reclining at a low table with their heads toward the table and their feet extended outward. Our unnamed heroine hears of Christ’s presence and comes into the house to present her flask of perfume to Christ. It appears that when she sees Him she is overwhelmed with adoration and begins weeping over His feet. She then wipes His feet with her hair and pours the perfume on His feet. She begins to kiss His feet in a sign of complete devotion.

In this simple act, she displays her deep affection for Christ. Simon, however, misreads her. He sees only a disreputable woman and utterly fails to understand her actions. So the Lord tells Simon a parable to help him understand that her actions were driven by intense gratitude for the forgiveness of her many sins.

Let us notice, then, some principles of worship that this woman demonstrates in living color.

Worship Flows Out of a Thankful Heart

We cannot miss the main point of Christ’s parable that her actions were driven by her appreciation for the magnitude of her forgiveness. Her love reflected her appreciation of her salvation. The greater our appreciation of the extent of our forgiveness and the expansiveness of Christ’s grace to us, the more we will love Christ. If we, like Simon, fail to appreciate the depth of our salvation, our worship of Christ will be stunted.

Worship Is Not the Basis of Forgiveness But the Result

Her worship was due to her appreciation that her sins were already forgiven, not the means of her forgiveness. The Lord said, “Your faith has saved you,” not her acts of devotion. The tense of the word “forgiven” (v48) implies her sins had already been forgiven in the past. Her actions reveal a heart that knew it had already been forgiven.

Worship Is Purposeful

Notice that when she learned of Christ’s presence, she came to where He was. She took the initiative. It was not something the Lord commanded; rather it was a response of her heart. She came with purpose and she didn’t come empty-handed. She brought perfume to pour out on Christ. Moreover, she had purchased the perfume earlier and was prepared for the opportunity when it came.

Worship Is Costly

She brought an “alabaster flask of perfume.” We are not told the value of her offering, but it would have been expensive for her. She demonstrated that true worship for God requires time and cost to prepare. The Psalmist wrote, “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king” (Psa 45:1 KJV). David insisted on purchasing sacrifices to offer to the Lord, saying, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2Sa 24:24 ESV). True worship to God is costly; it requires us to give our lives to God (Rom 12:1), our material resources for His work (Php 4:18), and the continual praise of our lips (Heb 13:15).

True Worship Requires Humility

This woman doesn’t think of herself. By washing Christ’s feet with her tears and her hair, she is performing tasks typically assigned to the lowest slave. She lets down her hair in complete disregard for normal customs in order to wipe the feet of the Lord. Her deep humility is obvious as she kisses His feet. Worship should never be about ourselves or about impressing others, like the Pharisees praying on the street corner. By her actions, this woman demonstrates that a true worshipper thinks only of Christ. She enters the house of Simon, a man known for his religious piety, where she knew she wouldn’t be welcomed. She was prepared to endure the scorn of this wealthy man to honor her Lord. In the attitude of Simon, we can see that religion has no appreciation of true devotion.

Genuine Worship Affects the Whole Person

Here the woman’s heart and soul are laid bare. Her tears overflow as she beholds her Lord who has forgiven her. Worship is one of the few things which we, as human creatures, do that involves our body, soul and spirit. We worship in spirit but it touches our souls. We worship in truth with minds fully engaged. We eat and drink the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper with our bodies while we offer spiritual songs and praise to God. Worship is what we were created for!

Let us be challenged by the devotion of this unnamed woman to give to God and Christ the worship they deserve.