In reading this passage we must beware of a modern attitude: that prostitution is a "victimless crime." It appears so only to those who have not been its victims. Many homes have been destroyed by it; this woman is indeed quite the sinner of her reputation. The story would be pointless without that.
The first of three characters in this drama, she is an extravagant woman. How? First, we know from the history of the time that the perfume jar in question would have cost a year's wages for most people. More than that, there is the hair. The crowning glory of a woman in that time, she lets it down and uses it as a towel. In that, we see her two great keys:
· Faith. She knows that this man can forgive, and she knows he will.
· Repentance in humility. This is not an embarrassed "I'm sorry," but a heartfelt, humiliating repentance.
Simon gets a bad reputation; many think him a hypocrite. He's not. He suffers from what many of us suffer from: the life of moderation, or, as Revelation has it, he's "lukewarm." It shows:
· He condemns the sin—but just to be balanced about it, he condemns the sinner too.
· He prefers respectability to repentance.
With the Old Testament before him, how could he make these mistakes? It's simple; he is righteous; he is forgiven little and therefore has little love for the forgiven.
Two things shine out from Jesus: he has the authority to forgive, and he is willing to forgive even the greatest of sinners. This story, says Spurgeon, "drips with grace." The forgiveness of Christ is shown as freely given, without regard to what others might think.
The key to this forgiveness is in the jar of perfume. To open this kind of jar you had to break it at the neck. The jar was ruined so that the perfume might flow. The jar is the heart of the sinner, broken so that the perfume of grace might fill every corner of the sinner's soul.