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than most of his sect, wished to show him respect, by inviting him to his house: an invitation with which Christ, who would not decline any opportunity of doing good, complied.
37. And behold a woman in that city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus was at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment;
38. And stood at his feet, behind him, and began to wash, rather, "to wet," his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment, or, "perfume."
There are in these two verses several references to the customs of the ancients, which it is necessary to explain before they can be well understood. The method of sitting at meat among them was not like ours, in an erect posture, with the feet before them; but they laid themselves upon couches, on one side, with the feet extended; the left hand supported the head, and the other was used for taking food. This explains how the woman who stood behind could have access to the feet of Jesus for she stood behind the couch, opposite to his feet. They wore nothing on their feet but sandals, which were taken off, and the feet washed, upon coming into a house; which shows us how this woman's tears could wet his feet, as well as explains what is said below, v. 44. In eastern countries, where the climate is very hot, perfumes are in frequent use; and it was usual at entertainments to distinguish such guests as they wished to show particular respect to, by anointing their heads with some kind of perfume. There is an allusion to this custom, Ps. xlv. 7, "God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." It was Vol. 2.1
with this design, probably, that this woman came upon the present occasion: but, being deeply affected with a sense of the guilt which she had contracted by her former course of life, which had been very immoral, she shed tears of sorrow at the remembrance of her sins. These tears falling upon the feet of Jesus, she wiped away with the hair of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the perfume. These were all expressions of high respect and reverence. It was usual to anoint the head*, and lay hold on the feet with the hand, as tokens of respect; but she, who was not satisfied with ordinary marks of esteem, kissed his feet and anointed them. It is probable that having heard Jesus preach, she was awakened to a sense of her guilt by his discourses, and came now to express her gratitude for the happy change wrought in her mind. Who she was does not appear; for her name is not mentioned; but it has been generally supposed that she was Mary Magdalene for no other reason that I can find, than that this woman is said to have been a great sinner, and Mary is said to have had seven devils cast out of her; as if being possessed with dæmons was an evidence of Mary's immoral character; whereas it signified no more than being afflicted with a dreadful disorder, and in the present instance with one so inveterate, as to be attributed to the possession of seven dæmons. Nor does it appear to what vices this penitent had been addicted, although it has also been supposed that she was a harlot. The transaction is said to have taken place in the city, whence it has been concluded that it was Capernaum, the place of Christ's ordinary residence, which is more than once mentioned in that general way, without specifying the name.
39. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and
* Mark xiv. 3. Matt. xxviii. 9.
2 Kings iv. 27.
what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
The prophets mentioned in the Old Testament discovered that they knew what took place at a distance. Thus Elisha the prophet knew that Gehazi his servant went back to receive a present from Naaman the Syrian; and the same prophet discovered to the king of Israel what passed in the bed-chamber of the king of Syria.From these, and other facts of a like nature, this Pharisee concluded, that if Jesus were a divine teacher, he would have known the past conduct of this woman; and that his ignorance upon this subject, which he discovered by permitting her to kiss his feet, and to show him other marks of respect, which Pharisees would not admit of from persons whose conduct had been notoriously infamous, was a plain proof of his being no prophet. In making this conclusion the Pharisee certainly went too far: for although the ancient prophets appear to have known in some instances what took place at a distance, there is no reason to believe that they had this knowledge in every case; but only where it was particularly communicated to them by God. Jesus might, therefore, have been ignorant of the conduct of this woman, and yet have had just pretensions to be a di
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee:
Jesus respectfully asks permission of Simon the Pharisee, whose guest he was, to say a few words, in answer to the objection which he had made in his own mind to his conduct; showing him that he knew what had passed in his thoughts, and must therefore, according to his own kind of reasoning, be a divine teacher.
And he saith, Master, say on.
41. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty;
42. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?
43. Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most; and he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
By this parable Jesus intended to justify his conduct towards this woman, in permitting her to come into his presence, and to show him strong marks of her esteem. For if her penitence and gratitude from the hopes of forgiveness, which she had derived from his discourses, were as much more fervent than that of other persons,. as her offences had been more heinous, she was as worthy of notice and favour as less transgressors, such as this Pharisee supposed himself to be. He therefore proceeds to show him how much more humble and grateful her conduct had been than his. He had neglected the common offices of civility, for fear, perhaps, of giving umbrage to the other Pharisees by these marks of attention: but she had given signs of gratitude which had never before been exhibited.
44. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house; thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed," she hath bathed," my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Jesus well knew the cause whence her tears flowed; but he gave the matter a different turn, as if they were intended to supply a deficiency of civility in the master of the house, who had neglected to bring him water to wash his feet.
45. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
To kiss the hand of a superior, as a token of reverence, was the common custom in the East, and continues there to this day. Even in our own country this ceremony is observed towards the prince. This mark of respect Simon had not paid to Jesus*.
46. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with perfume.
To anoint the head and wash the feet are the first civilities paid to a guest in the East. Jesus takes notice of these omissions in the behaviour of Simon, not so much to reproach him for neglecting the customary civilities, as to show how much this woman had exceeded him.
47. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her síns, which are many, are forgiven: for she loved much.
These words, as they stand in our translation, do not at all accord with our Lord's design in this place, which is evidently to show that her great love was the effect or consequence of having many sins forgiven, and not the cause or means of forgiveness, as this language represents it to be. Some have therefore proposed translating the words thus, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; therefore she loveth much. Others, with the slight transposition of a word, upon the authority of one manuscript, thus, Because her sins, which are many, are forgiven, she loved much; both which translations render the sense plain and consistent, and are better than that in our English Bible. Our Lord does not completely unfold his design to the Pharisee, but leaves him to draw the proper conclusion himself. The
* Harmer, vol. ii. p. 56, 57.