The New Testament contains a profound and beautiful story that illustrates exactly the three aspects of care, acceptance and respect that underlie godly love. The Book of Luke records that Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While he was there, a woman who was a prostitute slipped into the house and, weeping at his feet, wiped her tears from him with her hair before kissing his feet and pouring expensive perfume onto them. When Simon began to think that Jesus surely could not be a prophet of God or he would have known the sinfulness of the woman, Jesus rebuked him by comparing her behavior with that of the Pharisee:
“Look at this woman,” he said. “When I entered your home, you didn’t bother to offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You refused me the customary kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in. You neglected the usual courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has covered my feet with rare perfume. Therefore her sins – and they are many – are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love” (Luke 7:44–47 as paraphrased by The Living Bible).
It is a story of heartfelt agape love and its results. Agape means to love actively and deeply, sometimes even sacrificially (John 3:16) – as this woman clearly did, considering her actions and the economic sacrifice she must have made in her gift of expensive perfume. But if we look closely at the story, we find that it highlights three of the key aspects of agape love and how it is expressed to others. Notice the three specific things that the repentant woman did:
Care – She washed Jesus’ feet: This was a physical need in the hot dusty climate of Jesus’ world, though it was something that the Pharisee did not even provide for – although this was a common courtesy at that time. But the woman’s actions signified, in Christ’s words, the fact that with her tears she expressed love by caring for another. We care for others when we are concerned for them and when we “take care of them” by helping them.
Acceptance – She kissed him: In doing this the woman expressed total acceptance of the one whose feet she kissed. It was also customary in that culture for a host to greet guests with a kiss to the cheek to express acceptance and welcome. In her actions the woman expressed the aspect of love which addresses acceptance – one of our deepest emotional needs.
Respect – She anointed him: By pouring extremely costly perfume on him the woman showed great respect – an area in which the Pharisee also failed by not even providing the customary (and relatively inexpensive) anointing of olive oil to honor his guest. Giving respect to another person addresses the underlying mental need for personal significance that all humans have. This is not the same as pride, but it is part of what it means to be human and part of God’s love (Psalm 138:6).
Significantly, then, the woman’s expression of love addressed the physical, emotional and mental needs of the human condition – all things the woman herself doubtless rarely received; but these were the qualities of care, acceptance and respect she had probably seen Jesus give, unreservedly, to many like herself who were rejected and despised by many religious people of the day.
The story not only paints a clear picture of these three qualities, it also reminds us that all of these qualities are necessary. We can interact with others without caring for them. We can provide care to others without really accepting them. We can accept people without truly respecting them. But the repentant woman’s actions showed all three things: the care, acceptance and respect that constitute the most fundamental aspects of the expression of love to others – as Jesus affirmed in his acknowledgment of the woman’s deep and godly love.