Simon the Pharisee invited the Lord to dine with him. At such banquets the guests would leave their sandals at the door as they came in, and then reclined to eat, lying on low couches with their feet stretched out behind them. Visitors both invited and uninvited would come in through the open door of the house. Only the invited guests would then stretch out to eat and drink. Among the uninvited it was not unusual even for beggars to creep in, hoping to scavenge some scraps of food left by the gentry. The woman “with a bad name” could easily have entered Simon’s dining room without being turned away.

As our Lord reclined on the couch there was no reason at first for Him to turn around to look at the woman with a bad name. Her actions drew His attention. With her tears she washed the dust from the feet of Christ. In a spontaneous outpouring of love and against all conventional propriety, she even let down her hair and with it she wiped away her tears from His feet. She covered His feet with kisses, and anointed them with ointment.

This was a startling display, and Simon’s reaction to it must have been written all over his face. Simon was thinking: “This man calls himself a prophet, and yet he lets a woman like that touch him!” So the unconventional prophet challenges his conventional Pharisee with a parable about creditors, the lesson of which was clear: the greater the forgiveness, the greater the love that is both given and received.

The humble devotion of the woman overrides all other considerations. All she wants is to show her love for the compassionate Rabbi. In letting her touch Him and by approving what she did, the Lord shares with her the contempt that had previously shamed her. He takes the shame and disapproval upon Himself, and then deletes them by absolving her: “Your sins are forgiven….go in peace.” And in forgiving her He also restores her human dignity and gives her back her self-respect.

That is mercy.