The following commentary is a summary and subjective interpretation of Luke 7:36 – 50.
All commentaries are based on the ESV translation.
Starting with verse 36, we see the initial invitation and precursor to the later events. Jesus is invited to one of the Pharisee’s house. In this section, we are not really informed of what the actual invitation was like, aside from the fact that it was to share a meal. Our Lord shows his response by joining His Jewish host at his table.
In verse 37, we have a third character brought into our story, a woman who was known for her sin. The translation calls her “a woman of the city,” suggesting that she was known throughout the town for giving her body away. What this woman’s sin was, nonetheless, is uncertain. However, we learn that the woman seems to bear interest in Christ once she finds out where He is eating. Note how she chooses to bring something with her.
In verse 38, continuing on from verse 37, the woman hides behind Our Lord and begins to cry. These tears are most likely a sign of guilt on her part. Nonetheless, the written transition is quick: she takes advantage of her tears and uses them to clean His feet. As we have no mention of a towel being present, her hair is used in its place. However, she does not stop at cleaning His feet; she kisses them as well. As a seeming culmination of her affections, she pours ointment onto Our Lord’s feet, completing the transformation from dirty to clean to covered in ointment. Christ’s feet have been made more than clean; something more has been added to improve upon their original state. This cleaning could be a physical allegory for what will happen to this woman’s life later on in the story.
In verse 39, we see the Pharisee’s response. He saw that Jesus had His feet cleaned by a woman who was known for her sins. The Pharisee seemingly denies or doubts that Christ could be a prophet. His qualifier is that because the woman is a sinner, Jesus should know better. We are not quite told in this section how the Pharisee knew who the woman was — whether by her dress, by her appearance, by recognizing her, or by her manner — but we are informed that she probably bore some kind resemblance to a so-called woman of the city. Something about her might be stereotypical for that kind of woman.
In verse 40, Christ says something to Simon. (It is later revealed that this Simon is the Pharisee who let Christ into his house. See verse 44.) He addresses the man and then informs him that there is something to be said. Simon replies and welcomes what Our Lord has to say, using the title “Teacher” to address Jesus.
In verse 41, we see the start of Christ’s reply in the form of a story. Jesus begins by introducing us to a person who lends money followed by two more characters who owe the first character money. Then, Christ cuts away from the moneylender and discusses the two debtors’ financial states: one owes the moneylender more money than the other.
In verse 42, the fictional tale moves to show the debtors failing to pay off their debt. Christ seemingly implies that this was due to a lack of money rather than an actual refusal. It would appear that the debtors did not have enough to pay back the moneylender. However, the moneylender’s response is one of mercy: he removes both debts entirely. Neither man must pay him anything more. Christ closes this verse with a question, asking Simon which of the debtors loved the moneylender more than the other.
In verse 43, Simon makes a guess. He assumes that the debtor with the larger amount of debt had greater affection. Christ shows no criticism for Simon’s deduction and agrees with the judgment.
In verse 44, Christ continues to speak with Simon the Pharisee. However, He starts to acknowledge the woman who cleaned His feet. Besides bodily facing the woman, Christ asks Simon if he notices the woman. Now, Christ is asking Simon if he knows that she is even there. Jesus continues by summarizing the course of events that took place while at the Pharisee’s house, starting with Jesus entering the house and then explaining who has and who has not cleaned His feet. Christ interweaves some facts that this woman of the city has gone above and beyond reproach: she has done more than giving Him a bowl of water to wash His feet. Rather, she has personally sought to it that His feet were cleaned. However, He notes that the Pharisee has done nothing of the kind.
In verse 45, Our Lord continues His minor speech. The comparison between the Pharisee and the woman of the city does not end with how the Pharisee failed to clean his guest’s feet. Jesus notes that Simon has not kissed Him, but that the woman has been kissing Him since He came in.
In verse 46, Jesus notes the woman’s ointment. Here, He uses another contrast. The Pharisee has not covered Our Lord’s head with oil. Rather, the woman has anointed His feet with ointment. Christ’s upper body has seemingly gone untouched by His lower body has been showered with affection. (Though this may be mere speculation, the author may have intended to include an unspoken contrast between the two characters’ genders — male and female — further perpetuating the differences between them.)
In verse 47, Our Lord seemingly uses the prior events for the rationale for why the woman is now forgiven. These have been acts that have demonstrated her faith and repentance. If there has been much to be forgiven, the response will be adoration. Christ also informs Simon that if there is little to be forgiven, there is little love as a response. His suggestion that the woman has sinned multiple times harkens back to the debtor with greater debt. Moreover, the comment about having little to be forgiven of harkens back to the debtor with little debt. The small tale has seemingly played out before the Pharisee’s eyes.
In verse 48, we see Christ talk to the woman. He states that her sins are forgiven. He states this as fact rather than a suggestion or guess.
In verse 49, we see the reaction of those who were eating with Our Lord. We are not given details about who these individuals were. They question who Jesus is and who forgives sins. Their words could be read in two formats: either that they are truly curious about who this man is and are astonished or that they loathe His comment.
In verse 50, Our Lord does not directly address the people who are questioning Him. Rather, He talks directly to the woman who He has just forgiven. The comment explains how she was saved: through her faith. Having explained how she was saved, He instructs her to peacefully leave. This might be read as a commandment for the woman. However, it does not appear to be forceful. Instead, it appears to be reassurance that the woman can now stop her shows of affection: she can now leave this place that may start to criticize her lifestyle — if its inhabitants haven’t already started to — and rest knowing that she has obtained salvation. The woman’s journey to salvation has been successful.
Side Note: It is interesting to note that Christ’s lack of a comment to Simon immediately following verse 50 might be implied irony. Before, Christ used several examples that showed what the Pharisee did not do and what the woman did do. In verse 50, only the woman is mentioned to have been forgiven for sure. In this chapter, Christ says nothing immediately following verse 50. It is true that Simon could have been forgiven already or later on as hinted to by Christ’s words in verse 47. However, all of this is speculation as God only knows who is truly saved by grace and it is completely possible that Simon could have saved at a later period in time.