|The Woman and the Pharisee—Luke also paints a deliberate contrast between the Pharisee
and the woman. By inviting Jesus to a meal, the Pharisee recognizes
Jesus as an equal. In the Mediterranean world, only equals
can invite each other to meals. But after Jesus' arrival, the
Pharisee extends no other sign of hospitality, suggesting that
he does not accept Jesus for who he is: God's prophet.
The woman stands in stark contrast. The story tells us she was a sinner but gives not a clue regarding the nature of her sin. Though her sinful reputation was known in the city, we do not know what city it was. That she boldly enters the men's space (reclining at table) and is not impeded by Simon suggests she might be a widow, but Simon's neglect may also be part of his determination to withhold signs of hospitality and respect for Jesus.
The woman, however, performs for Jesus all the signs of hospitality that the Pharisee quite intentionally omitted: she provides water for cleansing (v. 44), tenders a kiss of greeting (v. 45), and provides perfumed oil for anointing (v. 46). It is precisely these deeds that tell us the woman has been forgiven. Simon's refusal to act like a host indicates that he has not experienced—perhaps not even sought—forgiveness.
Contemporary Western commitments to equality as a cultural value often make it difficult to perceive other cultures respectfully on their own terms. In today's story, what the woman has done for Jesus is much more important than her alleged reputation or status.
John J. Pilch