Luke 7:36-8:3 [Audio Link at Bottom!]
Jesus has been invited to a Pharisees house for dinner. The story starts out innocently enough; in fact, verse 36 seems to merely set the context for what happens next with the woman. Yet, we’re tipped off that something more is going on here than we first see, because the man whose house Jesus is dining with is twice referred to as Pharisee, even those we have the fellow’s name. We’ve read enough in Luke for this to intrigue us. We’re naturally suspicious of this Pharisee character. Who is this? Why has he invited Jesus to his home? What does he intend to do? Verse 36 is a key verse in this story for what it does not say, and in due time we’ll learn the answers to our questions.
Yet this dinner is quickly interrupted by a most surprising intrusion. Into the middle of the dinner party, an unexpected, and from the host’s point of view, and unwelcome visitor arrives and throws the Pharisees nice little house party in disarray. Who is this visitor?
- A woman: this may seem like a minor insignificant detail, yet Luke is very interested in contrasting for us Jesus’ attitude toward women. Women are featured prominently throughout Luke’s gospel, and yes this adds to the shock of the moment. The Pharisee’s dinner table would have been a place for men to talk and to entertain and to debate theology. On one level, just having a woman burst into man’s domain was shocking enough.
- A sinner: Literally, she was a sinner in the city, meaning she had the reputation in the city as a sinner. Luke is not merely making a theological comment of her sin before God, but making a social comment about her reputation. So now its not only any woman who has brazenly interrupted the Pharisees meal, but that woman. Luke is not interested in telling us what sort of sin this woman is associated with in the city, and it does not matter to us, or for that matter apparently, to Jesus.
Now let’s consider for a moment the effect the presence of this woman would have had on the Pharisee. To the Pharisee, this woman is a contagion. In his mind, the spiritual effect of this woman in his home would be like someone bringing in an aerosol can filled with swine flu and spraying it around. Pharisees were not, under any circumstances to associate with any woman other than their wives, and especially were not to identify with any one known to be a transgressor of the law. Yet he’s in a bit of a conundrum because as a good Jew, his home was to be marked by a hospitality that is a bit foreign to us today. Jewish homes often had a courtyard of which they left the door open to any who would enter - this is how the woman got in. Yet under normal circumstances people understood their place and a sinful woman like this one would never presume to enter into a Pharisees home. Yet what the Pharisee didn’t know, but yet was about to, was that when we invite Jesus into our homes “normal” is thrown out of the window.
So as the Pharisee stands there mouth-open and dumbfounded, not knowing how to remove this contagion that has entered his home, the woman starts behaving in such a manner that multiplies his discomfort and increases his fury. She takes the perfume she has been carrying “and standing behind [Jesus] at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Oh, how many ways is this woman disgracing herself and Jesus? This sinful woman blathering all over Jesus. She is overcome with such emotion that she completely loses herself in the moment of worship. Seeing that Jesus feet were yet dirty from his travels, she focuses her adoration on those beautiful, dirty feet that left heaven to preach the good news. She washes them with her tears. Tears of repentance? Tears of joy? Both? Seeing that no towel has been put out for Jesus, she loosens her hair to wipe and dry them, completely humiliating herself. It would be today as if she had inadvertently exposed herself to the men present, further cementing her status as a sinful woman who doesn’t know her place.
The Pharisee is incensed and Luke gives us insight into his thoughts: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” OK - here we’re getting somewhere - the answer to some of our questions about this Pharisee.
The Pharisee invited Jesus into his home not as a guest to be served, but as a suspect to be tried. Look at his words, “If this man were a prophet” but he most obviously is not for look at how he is letting this sinful woman fawn all over him. Jesus was invited into his home as a suspect to be tried. If this woman hadn’t crashed the party, the Pharisee would have had other tests to set Jesus on trial. The woman’s intrusion has merely sped up the Pharisees trial. Again, as we’ve noted over the past few weeks, this entire chapter is about Jesus not meeting up to people’s expectations. John doubted because Jesus did not seem to meet his expectations of Messiah, this man rejects Jesus because he is not meeting his expectations of prophet.
Yet the story is not over, for it is not Jesus who is on trial here, but someone else. And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” The ironic part here is that, at the very same moment that Simon is dismissing Jesus as a prophet, Jesus displays prophetic insight into Simon’s thoughts and then also speaks to him in cutting prophetic words.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
This parable is the key to the entire passage, and though Simon gets the right answer, I want to show you that it’s easy to get the answer wrong. You see, the Pharisees had a different parable about debtors and creditors to explain God’s dealings with people:
Leniency and Grace are Two Different Things
“To what may it be compared? To a man who is the creditor of two persons, one of the them a friends, the other an enemy; of his friend he will accept payment little by little, whereas of an enemy he will exact payment in one sum.”
This is the mindset of religious people. There are good people and bad people - God’s friends and enemies. Under this mindset, the best we can hope for is leniency - that God will bend his rules a bit or give us more time to pay back the debts we owe him. This is really familiar to me, because this was my exact understanding back when I was raised as a nominal Catholic. In my mind I understood that no one was perfect, but that some people were better than others, so that there are good people and bad people (of course I was one of the good). But then I thought that God knows that none of us is perfect, so if I’m a good person and try to not do anything too bad then god will be lenient with me - he’ll “accept my payment little by little.” Let me declare to you this morning that leniency and grace are two different things. God is not lenient toward us and our sins because we are his friends. God is gracious to us when we were his debtors and enemies. That’s the point of Jesus’ parable. Yeah - some may owe 500 denarii, and some may owe 50, but none of us can pay. Neither Simon with his good reputation or the woman with her bad reputation could pay their debt to God. And so our only hope for salvation is not in our goodness but in God’s grace. This is the exact word Jesus uses: when they could not pay, he “graced” the debt of both. Religion says pay God back little by little, Jesus says, you can’t pay God back. So Jesus leads Simon to the final piece of the riddle: If you can’t pay God back, Simon, and this “sinful” woman can’t pay God back - who do you think is going to love Him more when they find their sins forgiven? Simon, thankfully gets the right answer, here, the one for whom he cancelled the larger sum.
And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
So Jesus is clearly getting to Simon. Simon is beginning to make correct judgements about God, yet still needs his eyes to be opened more to what is happening right in front of him. Do you see this woman? Of course Simon does, he’s been watching her, judging her the whole time. Yet Jesus is going to use this woman to reveal some things about Simon’s own heart. I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Here’s the point - not only was the woman extravagant in her welcome and worship of Jesus, but Simon was extraordinarily cold and unwelcoming of Jesus. Simon did not even offer Jesus the basic hospitalities that a common visitor would require, much less a visitor so distinguished as the son of God. If you had asked Simon before Jesus came to dinner who loved God more, what do you think his answer would be, Him, the devout pharisee, or the “sinful” woman? Do I even have to ask? So let’s ask the question again - based on the welcome Jesus received by these two, which of the two loved God more?
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It is assumed that this woman had prior contact with Jesus and his message before this encounter, for Jesus insinuates here that her sins were forgiven before this meeting. “Are forgiven” is a past perfect - something happened in the past of which the effect continues. The love that she expressed to Jesus found its source in the forgiveness that she had already found in Jesus. Forgiven people love Jesus.
Let your sin lead you to come to Jesus. 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Consider the question this raised in the minds of the Pharisees present. They had been trained by their religion that only a priest offering an atonement of blood, could one find forgiveness. Yet here is Jesus - not a priest, offering no atonement. How can Jesus offer atonement? Jesus understood the mission of the messiah - to the cross to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus is your atonement. Bring your sins to him, just like this woman.
Let your sins lead to love Jesus. For the Christian - when we sin, we still must continually let our sins lead us to Jesus (1 John)
This brings us to a theological problem, if those who are forgiven much love much and those who are forgiven little love little - it would seem that our love for God and understanding of grace is proportionate to the sins forgiven. So then, shouldn’t we continue to sin so that grace may increase? No! Those things led to death, Jesus says go in peace.
What will Simon Do?
Conclusion is open-ended: Will Simon see that he is not as righteous as he thought he was, repent, place his faith in Jesus, be forgiven and love God lavishly? Jesus is gracious to Simon, giving Him and all of us, opportunity to repent. How would Simon repent? In this instance, repentance for him would look like this - he would give this sinful woman a place at his table. He would eat with the “sinner” just like his master Jesus had the reputation of eating with sinners. He wouldn’t see her as a contagion any longer, but as a friend who could teach him of grace and how to love Jesus. True Love of God always bleeds over into for others. Our faith is not only about love of God and our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our personal relationships with Jesus Christ compels us to be a large-hearted as he is. What will Simon do with Jesus? What will Simon do with this woman? We know what Jesus did with women like her:
Luke 8:1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.