Everybody in the town knew that she was a “sinner,” and so they shunned her and treated her like an outcast (Luke 7:37, 39). How often she must have cried out to be saved from the horrible loneliness that her sin against God and her neighbors’ rejection caused her!
Then came the day when Jesus, a rabbi and miracle-worker, came to their town. Itinerant preachers were not uncommon at that time, but this one drew a huge crowd. He taught with such authority and love that it was as if the grace surrounding him permeated the whole crowd. For the first time in years, this sinful woman was filled with hope as Jesus’ words reached into her heart. “Who is this man? Why is my heart drawn to him? I wonder if anyone else in this crowd feels the way I do?” As the people began to leave, she felt a strong desire to hear more from him and to speak to him herself.
Some time later, she heard that Jesus was visiting Simon, a religious leader of the town. The woman might have been filled with fear, knowing what Simon and his friends thought of her. But hope in Jesus’ words drew her to him. She burst into Simon’s house and threw herself at Jesus’ feet. Tears flooded her eyes—tears of sorrow over her sin and tears of joy in Jesus’ presence. “This man knows all about me, but he doesn’t draw back.”
It seemed as if no one else was in the room. This man loved her in a way no other man ever had. She opened a flask of expensive ointment and poured it out on his feet. “What return can I give to the one who makes me feel so clean? I can give him my most precious treasure. Here, O Lord, is everything I own. I am happy to spend it on you.”
Do I Need Jesus?
The woman’s tears were in stark contrast to the reaction of Simon the Pharisee. He had invited Jesus, a fellow rabbi, into his home so that they could discuss their views. Unlike the woman, Simon did not feel any particular need for Jesus. So, when Jesus entered the house, Simon neither embraced him nor extended the customary offer to wash his feet (Luke 7:44-45). He had heard many things about Jesus—both good and bad—and now he was going to test Jesus’ fidelity to the law of Moses.
While the woman wept at Jesus’ feet, Simon saw his chance. Under Jewish law, a man became unclean through contact with a prostitute. But that didn’t seem to bother Jesus—he let her touch him! Indignant, Simon discarded Jesus’ prophetic preaching: “If he were a prophet, he would have known what sort of woman this is” (Luke 7:39).
Jesus summed up Simon’s response in one simple sentence: “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). While this woman’s encounter with Jesus resulted in the forgiveness of her many sins, Simon’s heart was not changed at all. Because Simon could not see his own need for a savior, he could not understand the love this woman had for Jesus. The woman demonstrated what true faith is all about: pursuing Jesus, heart-felt repentance, receiving forgiveness, worshipping Jesus, and giving one’s whole life to the Lord.
Combining Faith and Prayer
Just as he touched the woman, Jesus wants to deepen our faith. For the sinful woman, approaching Jesus involved her whole being. Even though she had sinned greatly, at that moment when she came face to face with Jesus, she lived out the most important commandment: “Hear, O Israel . . . You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). It is this lifting up of our whole being in prayer that is so pleasing to God. Remember the prayer of Mary, the mother of Jesus: “My soul [my whole being] magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Such a prayer of yielding and vulnerability rises to the throne of heaven as a fragrant aroma of worship. In a story similar to Luke’s account of the sinful woman, St. John tells us how Mary, the sister of Martha, took a pound of costly ointment and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:2-8). According to John, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment” (12:3). When we lift our hearts and minds to God, the pleasing fragrance of our prayer rises to the throne of grace. “Through us [God] spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).
Faith is the foundation from which this fragrant aroma rises. It is the foundation of prayer itself. The sinful woman had learned how to be intimate with her Lord. She could respond because she knew the Lord of love. She experienced the truth behind St. Paul’s encouraging words: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Prayer Is a Relationship
Throughout the centuries, many saints have taught their followers various methods of prayer. In your walk of faith, the Lord may have guided you into your own pattern or method of prayer. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the method, prayer flows first and foremost from an inner relationship with the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, Jesus’ words become our own: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done!” No matter how strong or weak they may feel, all Christians have the kingdom of God dwelling richly within them (see Luke 17:21). All Christians can receive the treasures of the kingdom of God and can come to know God intimately through a life of prayer.
At its core, prayer is the communion within the heart that occurs between God and his children. Imagine a married couple in love. Through their outward actions, we can catch a glimpse of their love for each other—they spend time together; they smile at each other; they give up their free time so they can be together. These are but signs of their love. Their true relationship actually occurs deep within their hearts. Similarly, prayer is a relationship that occurs deep within our hearts. It may manifest itself in various actions, such as giving up time to pray and talk with God, or keeping our hearts pure before him. Yet at its core, prayer is a relationship.
Through prayer, our relationship with God can grow and mature. As we continue in prayer, we will begin to sense the presence of the Lord more often. Like a thick cloud, his presence will lead us to deeper worship and love for God. Like the sinful woman who “wasted” her most prized possession on Jesus, we come before Jesus, weep over our sins and those of the world, and lay down all of our treasures before the Lord. Our treasures may include our reputation, our security, or our comfort. Whatever they are, we place them at Jesus’ feet and we worship him.
Teach Us To Pray!
Prayer is a gift from God. It is not something we do for him, but a beautiful gift that he bestows on us as we humbly seek his presence. Having learned from this sinful woman, let us seek Jesus every day with the same love that compelled her. “O sinful woman, how blessed you were to have kissed our Master’s feet! What a privilege to have wept before him in repentance and love! Yet, we too can know this same privilege. We can love Jesus in spirit and truth because the Holy Spirit within us loves to spend time in God’s presence. We can wait for Jesus in prayer. We can weep at his feet because of our sin and the sin of the world. Thank you, Jesus, for giving us your Spirit and inviting us into a relationship of love with you and your Father. Lord, teach us to pray.