Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The story of the anointing of Jesus by a woman who came to dinner is present in all four of the Gospels. It is one of the most popular stories in the gospel tradition. Luke's version is highly distinctive. First of all, it is early in the Gospel rather than being associated with Jesus' passion, as in the other three Gospels. In Luke's version, the incident is a sign of Jesus' extraordinary ministry of compassion and love for sinners. Furthermore, the setting in Luke is unique. The story takes place in the home of a Pharisee, a seriously observant Jew, who wanted to honor Jesus and invited him to a banquet.
This banquet would have been a major social occasion. In the last part of the story it is clear that there were a number of people present at the dinner. It wasn't just Jesus and the Pharisee, it was a whole group of men who reclined for a banquet. There is some evidence to indicate that reclining only happened at major dinners like this. We're not sure, but at least it is an indication that this dinner was a major social occasion.
In telling the story you want to create an atmosphere of a big dinner. You can draw the scene by indicating that others are present around the table where they were reclining.The practice of reclining for dinner was that every person had a cushion that they would lean on. There was a table in the middle with various dishes that everyone could reach, so the heads of all the men were toward the center and their feet were out of the circle. Everyone in Luke's audience knew that framework for the dinner.
Now the woman came and is introduced immediately as "a woman in the city who was a sinner." What that means to Luke's listeners is that she was a prostitute. "A woman of the city who is a sinner" is code for a sex professional. She is described as having learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house. This is an inside view of what she had learned. The impact of this inside view in the telling of the story is to lead the listeners into identification with her.
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