Wining and Dining in the 1st Century

dinner party

Jesus first dines with a Pharisee in Luke 7. The text says that the Pharisee invited Jesus to eat with him, and when Jesus arrived he entered the Pharisee’s home and sat down at the table (v. 36). This is normal for us, right? If I receive a dinner invitation, I usually bring something with me to contribute to the meal, and when I arrive I enter the home, we talk, and eventually we sit down to dinner.

People had slightly different expectations for dinner parties in the 1st Century. They were a big deal — people would get gussied up with expensive perfumes and oils, and prepare themselves for the evening. Interpersonally, guests expected their hosts to greet them with a kiss on the cheek, water to clean their feet, and possibly even oil for anointing at some point during the meal. (For an excellent article on “1st Century Dinner Parties” in Luke 7, look into this resource.)

When Jesus walks into the Pharisee’s home, we have no indication that the Pharisee greeted him with the ceremonial cheek kiss, or that he gave Jesus water to wash his feet, or that he offered Jesus oil for anointing. That’s what makes the next moments so shocking — a woman described as a “sinner” from the city enters the Pharisee’s home weeping, and she uses her tears to wash Jesus’ feet, then she dries them with her hair, and finally she pours perfumed oil on him (v. 37-38). In essence, the sinner becomes the host in the Pharissee’s home. She shows Jesus the honor, devotion, and love that the Pharisee withheld from him.

The Pharisee hates this, obviously. He finds it inappropriate, and he expected Jesus to refuse to be touched by a woman he considered sinful (v. 39). Jesus suspects the Pharisee’s concerns and addresses him with a parable. In it, a leader forgives the debts of two men who owe him money: one man owed him a lot of money, and the other owed him a lesser amount. Jesus asks the Pharisee, “Which of them will love him more?” The Pharisee supposes that the person who owed more would be filled with more love and gratitude (v. 40-46). So Jesus then points out the ways the woman showed him devotion, and states, “This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little” (v. 47).

The Pharisee remains so wrapped up in himself, in his appearance, and in his dignity. The sinful woman from the city, in contrast, weeps, cleans Jesus’ feet with her hair, kisses him, and sacrifices greatly out of a deep place of love. When I read the phrase, “The one who is forgiven little loves little” (v. 47b) a quote from Henri Nouwen came mind. Nouwen writes, “We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family” (Check out this and other great quotes by Nouwen here). Forgiveness comes from God; we also receive it, unquestionably, from each other and from ourselves, too. As we forgive one another, and accept the forgiveness of God, others, and ourselves, we practice what the woman in the biblical text and what Nouwen is discussing here. Forgiveness, as Jesus stated, leads to love.

So may we forgive one another, and ourselves, and accept forgiveness from God, one another, and ourselves, and ultimately allow the love within us to abound.

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