What a Prostitute Teaches Us About Worship: Extravagant Love, Radical Boldness Pt. 1

{This is part one of a two part blog series on the one source of love, boldness and worship}

As Christians, we spend a lot of time wondering what is wrong with us.

We hear of martyrs on foreign soil  laying down their lives for the gospel in bloody extravagant fashion. Church history testifies of men and women who stood against fierce political and social opposition and proclaimed boldly the foolishness of the cross. In our bible reading the fearless radical passion of the early church in the book of Acts is an indictment on our listless and dry spiritual estate.

For every one Francis Chan there are thousands of other struggling saved sinners who will never be able to quit their vocation to visit the underground church and prayer walk the major US cities to find their call. And even reading a popular book calling us to “Radical” gospel commitments doesn’t necessarily bring the quick spiritual fix we long for.

It’s enough to make any solid sincere saint at the least question their own fruit, and at the most question their very salvation.

All of this begs the question.

Thankfully, as is always the case with the most important questions, the Bible is forthcoming with a more than adequate answer. It’s found in Luke 7:36-50:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Where does such passion, boldness, and extravagant worship come from?

In the verse right before this scene (Luke 7:34) Jesus speaks of eating with the “wrong people.” The Sinners and tax collectors were despised by the religious establishment. The Pharisees primary charge against Jesus was that he threw the best parties (“a drunkard”) and invited the lowest classes of a people. They probably were jealous they weren’t invited. Jesus turns that theory on its head in the very next scene.  Being no respecter of persons, Christ eats with the “right” person in v. 36. Pharisees were the creme de la creme of society, pillars of the first century Israeli religious system. The Pharisees were OCD in their religious zeal. They fasted frequently and even tithed out of their spice racks.  

In v. 36 Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. Dinner was a sign of intimate acquaintance in ancient Israel culture. A gesture of supreme respect towards the person invited. Is it possible to pay outward respects to Christ and inwardly oppose him?

It takes no time for a broken vessel to rain on Simon’s party. 

In v.37 we have a very public “sinner” show up to the Pharisee’s house. The phrase “woman of the city” usually connotes sexual sin, which was probably committed as a prostitute. In that day, women were second class citizens on the level of children. For a woman to show up to a man’s dinner party uninvited was a serious party foul. For a known prostitute to show up at a Pharisee’s dinner party uninvited was a colossal Kanye Westesque error.  

The woman brings with her what is likely her most valuable possession, an alabaster flask of perfume. The expensive stone flask was probably used for her line of work. In a profound way, the jar contained her very livelihood. It was worth a healthy portion of her salary for the entire year.

Yet she pours it out in a reckless display of love.

 Because of our lack of historical context, the cultural significance of v. 38 is lost on us. She washes Jesus’s feet with her hair. A woman’s hair had a weighty impact on her identity in Jewish culture.  In 1 Cor. 11:15 Paul calls a woman’s hair her “glory.” The first century Jewish woman kept her hair up all her life. But on her wedding night when she was standing before her husband for the first time the man would reach up and take her hair down. Before the marriage was officially consummated the new husband would first see his wife’s long hair fall around her bare shoulders and back, and he would behold her there, standing in all her “glory.” Because of these implications it was scandalous for a woman to have her hair down before other men in public places. But this woman does not care that she scandalizes the mind of mere men. She is on a solemn mission to serve at the feet of her tender Savior. 

Her hair is down, she is vulnerable, she lays it all before the feet of the only man who will never use and abuse her.

And she uses her alabaster jar, her savings plan, her only resource of earthly value and pours it on the feet of Jesus. The sandaled, dusty, unkempt feet of love. This was a slave’s job. She does it with tearful joy. Her tears were the soap that anointed the Savior’s feet.

Worship is a deeply emotional response to Christ. It is not just that, but it at least has that heartfelt component in it. Dignified stoicism is not a virtue lauded by Jesus.

This passion, boldness, and extravagant worship was a response she couldn’t hold back, no matter how her culture condemned her.

The gaze of the religious cut her to pieces. But she was pierced only by the gaze of One.

We’ll answer the question at hand in the next post. The question(s) for now are: What is holding me back from unhindered displays for my Jesus? What can this prostitute teach me about love and worship? Do I identify more with the Pharisee than the prostitute in this scene?

Peace and Grace til next time.

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

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