The sinful woman in Luke 7 anointed the feet of Jesus with a costly perfume.

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t feel you deserved? How did you handle it? In today’s story of the sinful woman, we see a woman so grateful for God’s mercy that she was willing to humble herself and show her appreciation by cleansing and kissing the feet of her Savior.

The Sinful Woman

Today’s story takes place in Luke 7. We learn in verse 36 that Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. During the meal, a woman slipped into the home, stood at Jesus’ feet weeping, and washed Jesus’s feet with her tears. She then used her long hair to dry them off. When she was done, she poured a fragrant oil over his feet. 

Though it appears that it was a large gathering and the woman did not call attention to herself, still, Simon, as the host, observed what was going on.

He knew who the woman was, that she was a woman of the night who made her living in a less than respectable manner. He thought to himself that if Jesus was any kind of prophet, He would perceive who the woman was and not allow her to get near him. 

Jesus, being God, knew exactly who the woman was. He also knew what Simon was thinking. Jesus posed to him a riddle. 

“A moneylender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred denarii, and the other, fifty. When they were unable to repay, he canceled the debts of both. So which of them will love him more?” (NASB)

Simon, not knowing what Jesus was getting at, answered he supposed the one who owed five hundred would be the more grateful.

Jesus agreed. He went on to point out that Simon didn’t provide water for Jesus to wash His feet, but this woman wet His feet with her tears and wiped them clean with her hair. Simon didn’t greet Him with a kiss, but this woman hadn’t stopped kissing his feet. Simon had neglected to put oil on Jesus’ head, but this woman poured costly alabaster ointment on His feet.

Jesus explained to Simon that though this woman was a notable sinner, her sins were now forgiven as was evident by the great love she was showing Him. Then, for the first time, Jesus turned to the woman and addressed her directly, telling her that her sins were forgiven.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus and the Sinful Woman

This is one of those Bible stories that’s hard to understand without a knowledge of the customs of the time.

First, I never could understand why this woman would be in someone else’s house uninvited. But the hospitality of the times dictated that doors were left open and anyone could enter a home and observe the meal and perhaps eat the leftovers.

This woman had obviously heard about Jesus, heard Him preaching, and had made a decision to turn from her wicked ways and receive the gift of forgiveness and a new life. When she learned that Jesus was in town having dinner, she took advantage of the opportunity to show her love and appreciation for Him turning her life around. 

If must have been a fairly large gathering for everyone to not notice the crying woman at Jesus’ feet. But the sight was somewhat commonplace, so besides accounting for the type of woman she was, a stranger entering someone’s home was no big deal. And we see from other Bible examples that anointing was a way of showing deference or respect. 

Jesus used every occasion to call out the religious leaders who were caught up in tradition and rules and completely oblivious to the. In this instance, He reveals to Simon the difference between Simon and the sinful woman. Jesus points out that it was a basic courtesy for a host to provide water for guests to wash their feet. Though Simon invited Jesus to be his guest, he didn’t extend this courtesy.

The woman, on the other hand, used her tears to cleanse his feet. She went on to take down her long hair and use it to dry his feet. Though it was considered inappropriate for a women to let her hair down uncovered, this particular woman probably gave it no thought, and Jesus recognized her motives, which were worshipful rather than wanton. 

Jesus goes on to mention  Simon failed to greet Him with a kiss. A kiss was the ordinary greeting of respect between friends or colleagues. Then there was the holy kiss given to Rabbis. Simon had not treated Jesus as a friend nor respected Him as a Rabbi. 

Finally, Jesus brings up the oil. Though not as common as the other two courtesies, pouring olive oil on a guest’s head was a way to show honor. In this case, the woman had a jar of perfumed ointment in an alabaster jar around her neck. It was more costly than olive oil, and in using it, she showed how important Jesus was to her. 

The sinful woman wasn’t trying to make Simon look bad. I’m sure she never gave Simon a thought at all. All she cared about was showing her love for her Savior. Nothing else mattered. 

Did she expect Jesus to call her out and draw attention to her? Probably not. But when He did, imagine the joy and peace that flowed through her when Jesus turned to her and said, “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Hartley Coleridge expressed it well in his poem, She loved much.

She sat and wept beside His feet. The weight
Of sin oppressed her heart; for all the blame,
And the poor malice of the worldly shame,
To her was past, extinct, and out of date;
Only the sin remained—the leprous state.        
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver ore adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair
Still wiped the feet she was so blest to touch;        
And He wiped off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she loved so much.
I am a sinner full of doubts and fears:
Make me a humble thing of love and tears.

What Can We Learn From the Sinful Woman?

Perhaps you are in the same situation as the sinful woman. You’ve messed up big time, and everyone knows it. When they see you, all they see are your mistakes and failures. 

Good news! 

Jesus sees past your past. He sees your future. All you have to do is keep your eyes on Him. Show your love, your gratitude, your respect to Him, and don’t worry about what the world thinks. Just as Jesus forgave her for her sins, He does the same for you. Though your sins be as scarlet, He washes them white as snow. 

I beg of you, follow this woman’s example, worship and love God with all your might. Drown out the voices of the world and listen for His voice. He is the way the only way to find true peace in your life. He loves you so very much. 

Listen to the All God’s Women podcast episode on the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet.


Lord God, thank You for Your never-ending kindness and compassion for all. Thank You for seeing past our failures and shortcomings and seeing instead inside our hearts and recognizing the potential for our future.

Give each and every woman listening today the courage to step inside the door and to come to you with repentant heart. Give us the courage to serve you though others might mock. Give us the strength to stand strong when those around us are weak. Fill us with Your overwhelming love and compassion. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

The sinful woman

The Sinful Woman Bible Study

Scripture Background

Luke 7:36-50

Bible Study Review

  1. Where was Jesus when the woman anointed His feet?
  2. What did she use to cleanse His feet?
  3. What were Jesus’ words to her?

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. What led her to enter Simon’s house?
  2. Was she worried about what other people thought of her?
  3. What impact might her actions have had on others?

Personal Reflection

  1. Are you ready to turn away from your past sins and start anew?
  2. Are you willing to humble yourself in order to worship God?
  3. Are you more like Simon or the woman?

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