In Luke’s gospel a Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. Luke uses the word “Pharisee” to represent narrow-minded religious bigots who have lost sight of the inner spiritual meaning of religious rules and customs, and perform religious obligations simply as a way to enhance their own ego. The word also applies to that place in ourselves that thinks, feels and acts this way.
Women of the Middle East would often carry ointments and perfumes in alabaster jars, and this is not the only time that Jesus will be anointed by a woman who uses a fragrant balm that she keeps in an alabaster jar. Anointing, as well as bathing one’s feet and kissing, were common signs of hospitality at this time. But in this case, these customary gestures are performed with an uncustomary extravagance.
Oil is the fuel of fire, and ‘anointing with oil’ is an ancient symbol for the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit entering the soul. In fact, the word Messiah (Moshiach in Hebrew) means ‘the anointed one’.
But in this story it is the feet that are anointed. ‘Feet’ symbolize the foundation and support of our physical life, but through the act of walking they also symbolize the soul’s efforts to advance. ‘Tears’ are a symbol of the soul’s suffering in the pursuit of divine Truth, its remorse when looking squarely at its bondage to external life, and its compassion for those who remain asleep and enslaved. ‘Hair’ sits at the apex of the Mind, and is a symbol of the highest qualities of the physical realm reaching upwards to touch God. A woman’s hair in particular is a symbol of the pure feminine receptivity which alone allows Divinity to enter the world. Lastly, a ‘Kiss’ symbolizes love and union, such as the ‘kiss of heaven and earth’.
Jesus, of course, heard what was in his heart, and he said to the Pharisee: “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”