Jesus vs. Boycotts, The Prostitute And The Perfume
In the first article of this series we looked at the episode in Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus dined with tax collectors. We saw that Jesus seemed to have no compunction at all about having social dealings with this outcast group, even though they were clearly involved in sinful activity. In fact, Jesus’ very defense of His dealing with them was that He “[…] had come to call ‘not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He likens these ‘sinners’ to ‘the sick’. They were spiritually sick and they were sinning, and yet Jesus engaged in a very intimate form of social association, eating at table with them. He benefited from the revenues which they got from sin, and yet He remained untainted by them.
Here is an incident in the Gospels which describes such an encounter:
…And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:37-39 NAS
We see the familiar pattern: Jesus interacts freely with people who are genuinely sinful, not just outcasts. The description says she was a sinner, which suggests prostitution, but does not absolutely require it. But whatever her sin, it is her chief identity. Again, we see that Jesus is denounced for His willingness to associate with such people, and again, we see that the material benefit to him is not trivial:
The use of an alabaster jar of perfume by definition makes this a luxurious anointing. So the woman either is quite wealthy (seldom the case with first-century prostitutes) or is making an enormous sacrifice.
Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 133). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Therefore, this seems to suggest the same theory that the critics of Jesus used to criticize His willingness to accept material (food) support from tax-collectors: the idea that the sinfulness of the person who gains the wealth spread to the person who benefits from it. But Jesus acts as though that theory is wrong. His actions seem to imply quite a different relationship between purity and impurity in His kingdom:
Far from being corrupted by this woman or her scandalous actions, Jesus has imparted some of his holiness to her (whether first at an earlier encounter or simply on this occasion). Purity, rather than impurity, is what is being passed from the one person to the other, and this holiness involves the entire person, not in degrees or gradations as elsewhere in Judaism (Moritz 1996: 57).
Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 137). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
I think it is important to see that these are not mere social encounters, like just standing near someone in a social setting. The ancient economy revolved around dining experiences and this is where much of wealth and business relationships centered. Jesus Himself acknowledges the interconnectedness of dining and commerce. Dining is a system of lending and advancement. Patrons fed their proteges. Dinners were ‘repaid’ (Jesus’ word) which means exactly what the word implies: that dinners were payments. For those not traditionally employed, such as Jesus, such invitations were part of one’s daily bread.
Here’s Jesus on dining as a payment/repayment system:
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14 NAS
Clearly, Jesus taught that meals with associates were much more than mere social cues as they are in our day–they were in fact a form of economic activity. He takes that as a given, but shifts the focus towards being generous towards God. The idea is that He assumes that there will be repayment, but that God, rather than the noblemen, etc. plays the role of the patron. Feeding the poor and crippled is still a loan and still bears a yield, but now it is God who repays.
It is important to note that Jesus does not deny the sinful nature of the dinner partner. The tax gatherers are the ‘sick’ and the ‘sinners’. The woman with the expensive vile of perfume is a ‘sinful woman.’ But He does, through His actions, deny the notion that their sinfulness travels to Him along with their material support. Jesus is there for a reason, not just for a free meal or for free perfume, but to save that which was lost, which means that He does engage with them, confronting in one form or another their sin:
“Jesus thus defies the conventions of his world by his intimate association with a group of people deemed traitorous and corrupt in his society. Still, he does not condone their sinful lifestyles but calls them to repentance, transformation and discipleship.“
Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 102). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
The woman clearly has been effectively reached, perhaps merely by Jesus’ willingness to receive her. In spite of her reputation, there seemed to be no need for her to feel the burden of sin. It was the release of grace which led to what is clearly an act of devotion and a changed heart. Her income may have been ill-gotten, but it was not ill-given.
Originally published on Townhall Finance.
Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of AffluentInvestor.com, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.
Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.
Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for CNBC.com, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.
Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.
Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.
Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of their seven children.