In 1 Kings, the storyteller sets the scene simply. Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. We have already been told a lot. We know that Naboth calls this beautiful valley home, that its name defines him and that he is Naboth the Jezreelite.
When you have long hair and perfumed oil and kissing feet and a sinful
woman in the same pericope, it’s hard not to think of sex. No wonder
Christian commentary has for centuries assumed that this woman is a
One of my seminary teachers once said that if you can’t think of anything original to preach, you should tell Bible stories—they have enough power to turn people’s hearts toward God. This may not work with every text, but it certainly works with the drama and wisdom of the story of Naboth and the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.
The Jews of Jesus’ time, the preacher intoned, were slavishly devoted to the practices of their ancestors. They studied scripture but did not apply it. Their temple was “rotten to the core.” Ancient Judaism was a religion whose rituals were “impressive, inspiring and empty.” It was a faith preoccupied with the superficial and lacking in substance.
Each of the four Gospels tells about the woman who anoints Jesus while he is at table, and in each Gospel someone sharply rebukes her for her action. But Luke is unique: unlike event as told the other three Gospels, the act of anointing as told in Luke does not portend Jesus’ death. Instead, hospitality and table fellowship are the recurrent themes, and they are a clue to the meaning of this parable.