Last fall I had the privilege of speaking to one of the Women’s Ministries at my church about Jesus. More specifically I spoke about women and Jesus – a broad yet wonderfully heartening topic.
I got to study and dissect a piece of Scripture I had read and heard a thousand times before and yet knew very little about. What a gift it is – opening the Word. Searching, digging, interpreting, understanding, stirring, lifting up. As a woman I got to encounter something significant in my Savior. I learned a little better His love for me – a woman, a sinner and constant wanderer.
I’d like to share this Jesus here once again. Take a moment and read Luke 7:36-50, and we’ll go through it together also.
Let me start with a little context. The book of Luke is written by Luke, no big surprise there. He was a physician and travel companion of the apostle Paul. So far in this book Luke has been telling the stories of how Jesus travelled around healing folks of every kind and at this point in the book the Pharisees are wary of Him and keeping a close eye on what they think is Jesus disobeying God’s law.
In our text we have a prominent Pharisee named Simon deciding to invite Jesus to eat with him and controversy ensues. It says,
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him 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.
Our English translation doesn’t convey the shock the pharisees had over this woman. When it says “and behold a woman” it is literally “Look a woman!” And the shock would have been primarily because of her reputation and the fact that she was approaching Jesus.
It’s important to note that this woman is different from the woman who cracked open a bottle of costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet in Matthew 26. That was the Mary of Mary and Martha. She had some knowledge of Christ’s coming death and was anointing Him in preparation for burial. Although the stories are similar, this is a whole different story and Luke is the only one who records it. This story we are in now takes place about a year before Christ’s death.
This nameless woman with a sexual reputation took advantage of a cultural practice that allowed people in need to join meals like this. And she did so in order to see Jesus. She may have been a prostitute. She was likely abused. And she was definitely broken.
The story goes on to say,
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “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.” 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[h] themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus is invited to a Pharisee named Simon’s home, an honor for sure, yet Simon clearly isn’t convinced Jesus is who He says He is, because he doesn’t give Him the most basic common courtesy of greeting Him with a kiss, washing his feet and anointing his head with oil. This seems excessive in hospitality for us today, but this was absolutely basic hospitality at the time.
It’s clear that at this point the pharisees already have a bit of contempt for Jesus, although nothing really tangible yet to condemn Him for. At least not yet.
And then a dirty lady approaches.
And what she begins to do is everything Simon wouldn’t.
Unlike Simon, this perfectly shattered woman was overcome by the presence of Jesus. His reclining position allowed her to out-pour her adoration in the posture of her spirit – humility. She washes His feet with tears of regret and kisses them in adulation, she anoints His feet with her own personal oils.
Her heart laid bare. Unashamed.
All in view of scrutinizing eyes.
Simon see’s and reveals his heart as he thinks to himself, 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.
His hardened heart hiding inside behind judgement and condemnation.
The contrast is stark between the heart of a beaten down repentant woman and the heart of a stoney law-abiding man. It’s an engrossing image of reckless grace.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus hears the thoughts of Simon and answers them. Revealing exactly who He indeed is. He hears all and knows all. So He responds to these thoughts with a parable about money lenders and debtors. And by having this exchange and telling this story, Jesus gives Simon the opportunity to understand what’s really happening.
See Jesus knew that Simon had up-held the laws of Moses for probably what felt like forever. Jesus knows that the pharisees are rule following men, who deeply value personal purity. At least so they thought. And so their sins are seemingly few. But the hearts of these men have long become callous.
And Simon perceives what’s being taught in Jesus‘s parable, yet shows his reluctance to accept it by answering Jesus’s question with…”The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
He knows what the lesson means for him. And perhaps more alarmingly what it means for the woman. A woman who clearly does not value purity like he does. Plus – and this is the real kicker – she’s a woman. Which in the time would have put her at the bottom of the barrel in terms of value. The deck was stacked against her in terms of cultural worthlessness.
But Jesus see’s a contrite heart.
He doesn’t duck past her sin. He calls it out. Confirming its seriousness and need for forgiveness. He’s the one that said her sins are many. He just also see’s her faith. And she knows the debt of sin is high and the forgiver of that debt is reclining right in front of her.
You see, this story says so many things. But one thing that is essential to note, is how we see Jesus treat women in Scripture. His interactions with them are usually the same. He’s gentle, tender, straight-forward about the sin in their lives and he calls them to repentance and faith. This goes for the woman at the well, the unclean woman who touches the hem of His garment, Mary and Martha at Martha’s house, the widow who lost her son, the woman crippled by a demon in the synagogue. Just to name a few.
And it was women who He first revealed Himself to after he was resurrected back to life!
You see Jesus places value on almost every woman He meets in the gospels. In a time where women were under-valued and mistreated, Jesus see’s them differently. He shows us that men and women are valued equally and most importantly salvation is for all.
It was good news then, and its good news now.
We end this story with Jesus shocking the pants off the pharisees by saying He can forgive sins. It’s an audaciously blasphemous thing to say. Unless, of course, its true. Which, of course, it is.
We see Christ’s oneness with God here, and it’s the best news of this text and of the Bible in general.
It changes everything.
When I first came to the faith, I felt like this woman. I wasn’t pure. My sins were many. And boy oh boy was I burdened from the guilt and shame of it all. At times I felt worthless. But it was my knowledge of my own depravity that made the taste of resurrection forgiveness all the sweeter.
And now that I’ve been a Christian awhile I feel the pain of the pharisee. I relate to the struggle of relying so hard on my good works to keep my standing with God. But it doesn’t. We don’t earn Gods ear. We are saved by faith alone. That’s why Jesus said to this woman “Your faith has saved you”, not “your actions have saved you.” And there is nothing I can do that will make Him love me more. He already loves me enough.
He loves you enough too.
With all this in mind, I believe this story admonishes us to do three things.
1. We should be prepared to meet with Jesus. When we come to church on Sunday, or open the Bible for personal study, or come to Him in prayer – we must do so expectantly. This woman showed up to Simons house prepared with her oil, ready to do one thing – worship Jesus. She wasn’t looking for anything in return. She just wanted Jesus. How often do we have the same desire and out-look on our times with Christ? What I’m not saying is we should seek a warm and fuzzy feeling or seek an experience. If you have one…great, but don’t spend your life trying to find some spiritual high. What I am saying however is regardless of what your feeling that day, prepare your heart to be with Jesus. Sit at His feet in the Word and worship Him. Be a woman who feasts on Scripture. We have been given free rein to study Scripture. It’s not just for men. So indulge in it!
2. We should remember our sin and where we came from. We loose our thankfulness and desire to worship Christ when we forget our own depravity and that we don’t deserve what Jesus did for us. That was Simons issue. He didn’t know his heart was stoney. He thought as long as he was good enough in his actions, that’s all that mattered. But he neglected the work of the heart. On-going repentance and remembering our sin brings us into thankfulness and heart-felt worship of Christ. We begin to love much, because we remember how much He forgave. Which brings us to number 3.
3. Our response to this grace should be love. Always. Love for each other inside the church as well as those who are outside the church and in need of knowing Christ. We cannot be a people who believe anyone is outside the grace Jesus offers. Which means we must love all people, even the extra bad looking ones we deem more dirty than the rest of us. They aren’t.
It’s a magnificent thing to behold Christ’s redeeming love and head-long forgiveness.
Remember its goodness. And revel in it today.