Over the next few weeks I'll be doing an essay series, posting essays from my time in Seminary over the past few years. I hope you enjoy!
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the story of salvation is written into the daily life and ministry of Jesus. Salvation is often seen as the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the story of the salvation revealed in Jesus’ ministry depicts the right now of salvation. Over and over again Luke opens our eyes to see how salvation is shared among all peoples through the breaking down of the social norms of the world. In this essay I will explore how salvation is expressed in Luke through the story of A Sinful Woman Forgiven as illustrated in Luke 7:36-50.
The Gospel of Luke consistently shows Jesus in the midst of those in the margins, beyond social acceptance and therefore disconnected from society. In the story of A Sinful Woman Forgiven Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee, while at the meal he is greeted by a woman, considered a sinner in her context, who then bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anointed them with alabaster. The Pharisee, Simon, sees this action as scandalous and Jesus’, knowing his thoughts, explains that her faith and gratitude is enough and for that she is saved. The Pharisee could not see past the woman’s history and social standing, believing he was more worthy than her. Luke subverts this understanding, “For Luke, the arena of human injustice (and justice) is not just about where sinister elites dwell in an overarching imperial system. When Jesus gets down to business, the Gospel’s outlook tends to focus instead on contexts like households, neighborhoods, and kinship groups. What unites blameworthy characters in Luke, such as Pilate, Simon the Pharisee, Herod Antipas, a rich ruler, or a synagogue official who expresses indignation over a healing performed on the sabbath, is not their offices but their misplaced assumptions about social standing and their desire to preserve dominant, controlling ideologies” (Skinner).
The Gospel of Luke is concerned with salvation for all people and the ways in which Jesus meets them exactly where they are. The salvific work of Jesus is not limited to one kind of person, but rather is offered freely to all. “For Luke, Jesus’ activity of saving/healing is not always associated with faith. Generally for Luke, Jesus appears as the savior of the outsider: tax collectors, the sick and demon-possessed, the poor, Samaritans, women, and “sinners.” The “lost” that Jesus comes to seek out and save stand outside traditional religious boundaries” (Fretheim). Despite being in the home of Simon the Pharisee where he was invited to dinner, Jesus connects with the woman who was outcasted by society. Simon thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” (Lk 7:39) But Jesus not only knows who the woman was so graciously attending to his feet, he also knows Simon well enough to know his question without speaking it. Jesus sees both of these individual’s hearts and meets them where they are.
But, what does the salvation look like for this woman after this encounter, a woman who is outcasted by society? Let’s look at the specifics of the text for further information. "The verb [sozo meaning ‘to save’] is employed by Luke with reference both to the preservation and healing of physical life and to a more spiritual-oriented, transcendent salvation […] For example, in 7:36-50 sozo is related explicitly to the forgiveness of sins and to the pronouncement of peace” (Green). Jesus’ offering of salvation is more than concern for her place with God, it is a public reconciliation to her community, done so in the presence of an important person within her own community. Our modern contexts cannot fully comprehend the nature of this act between Jesus and the woman, however, “ancient audiences would recognize that extending and receiving welcome around tables creates and reaffirms strong ties and obligations among Jesus, his hosts, and his guests. When Jesus dines with people who, according to some social calculus, do not belong with him, the meal becomes a declaration of solidarity. The meals indicate the creation of a new family, a new community, a new society. Salvation in Luke involves belonging, and one’s new identity becomes confirmed by hospitality” (Skinner).
Understanding the context of this passage is crucial to how we grasp the salvation offered to us through Jesus in it. Jesus saw this woman, a sinner by all around her, for more than her actions and circumstances. He saw her faith, her love, and her gratitude. From this, Jesus shows not only the woman, but Simon as well, what salvation truly looks like. It is not clean cut and shiny, it is mixed up in the reality of human sin. Salvation through Christ Jesus meets us where we are and offers us mercy. John Carroll explains further that, “the form deliverance takes depends on the condition or circumstance of need. For those who are bound or oppressed (e.g., by demonic spirits), salvation means “release”; these persons are saved by being liberated. For those whose lives are marked as sinful (thus estranged from both God and community), salvation means forgiveness” (Carroll). It is through this meeting of our individual needs, the offering of salvation, that humanity’s communal connection to one another can be restored. The love shown to us through God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit opens the door to loving one another. The story of A Sinful Woman Forgiven, a story that could be about anyone of us, for we all need the salvific work of Jesus in our lives. Our individual needs are seen by Jesus, known by God, and heard by the Holy Spirit.
Carroll, John T. “Bodies Restored, Communities Fractured? Luke and Salvation Revisited.” Currents in Theology and Mission 45, no. 4 (October 2018): 18–22.
Fretheim, Terence E. “Salvation in the Bible vs. Salvation in the Church.” Word & World 13, no. 4 (1993): 363–72.
Green, Joel B. “‘The Message of Salvation’ in Luke-Acts.” Ex Auditu 5 (1989): 21–34.
Skinner, Matthew L. “Looking High and Low for Salvation in Luke.” Currents in Theology of Mission 45, no. 4 (October 2018): 23–28.