She was most probably a prostitute.
Rejected and shunned by the community, she lived a life of shame and isolation. She felt dirty and worthless, and thought that God would never accept someone like her.
But there was one man who loved her not for what she could give, but for who she was. She heard about the way Jesus spoke with such tenderness to a woman caught in adultery and the way He reached out to the poor, the rejected and the despised. She began to believe. If there really was a God, then this is the kind of God she would give her life to.
When Jesus came to town she was convinced that He could forgive her of her past and give her the fresh start she needed, so she went to see Him:
‘When a certain immoral woman… heard [Jesus] was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them’ – Luke 7:37-38 (NLT)
This alabaster jar was a one time use only container that had to be smashed in order to be opened, and was worth about one years wages. The people were astounded at why Jesus would allow such a sinner to touch Him.
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts said:
“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:47-48,50)
In that very moment, her past was washed away and she was given the fresh start she needed. It wasn’t the perfume that saved her, but her faith in Jesus. The perfume was simply an expression of her gratefulness that such a sinner as herself could be forgiven by a Holy God.
We all come from different backgrounds with all kinds of baggage and sins of the past. But the good news is that no matter how shameful your past may be, we each have the same opportunity for a fresh start as we place our faith in Jesus!