Grace For The Journey
I did a graveside service once for a family who were not a part of our church, but whose mother that died had requested a Baptist minister be asked to do it. One of the granddaughters was offended by my message. Her initial complaint was that I did not talk enough about her grandmother. Specifically, though, she took issue with remarks I made in the Gospel portion of my message that “all are sinners,” bristling at even the suggestion that she herself was a sinner. Her advice was that I not be so bold as to think that people needed to hear that. I thanked her for her concern but told her that was not an option that I would consider.
Well . . . If there ever was a woman who readily acknowledged her own sinfulness and unworthiness it would be the unnamed woman in Luke 7:36-50. Not only did she know herself to be a sinner, but everyone gathered around her knew it, too. You could say her reputation preceded her.
The Bible tells us what happened . . .
One of the Pharisees had invited Jesus to dinner. Maybe the Pharisee wanted to know more about Jesus or thought that by having Jesus over he might sort of “score some points” with this popular prophet. Luke doesn’t tell us the man’s motivation, so we don’t really know. In any case, something happened that was a bit of a surprise: an uninvited guest joined them.
On the one hand, it wasn’t unusual to have someone enter into the dining area. In our day, it would be really strange because we eat in houses with doors shut and even locked. And nobody just walks into a modern 21st Century house uninvited and sits at the table! But in the ancient near eastern context, meals were shared in an open area of a home, open to the outside, where passersby could actually see who was eating and even “hang out” near where the folks were eating, even listening to conversation. It was a more communal experience even for uninvited guests. And folks didn’t sit around a modern western table with chairs, but rather they reclined in something of a circle, leaning on one arm and eating with the other hand. It was so different! It is still that way today in much of the eastern world.
That’s the setting when this unnamed woman walks in. Who was she? Luke doesn’t tell us her name, but he tells us her condition. In verse 37 he says, “And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner.” She is a woman “who was a sinner.” In other words, she had a reputation. And it wasn’t a good one. Everything about the context suggests that this woman was a prostitute – or at least had been a prostitute. She was well known in the city.
We learn several important truths from this passage . . .
1) A Conspicuous Sinner.
She was well known in the city and shunned by many given her sinful reputation. Luke tells us what happens next in verses 36-38, “When she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” This sinful woman has made her presence known. She is conspicuous in every way. She seems undaunted by the jeers and sneers that surely accompanied her as she approached Jesus. She opens an “alabaster flask of fragrant oil.” This was likely a small flask worn around the neck, containing costly perfume. We may suppose she used this perfume in her profession, but is now using it for a very different purpose. It is at this moment that the woman begins to sob – and the sense is not just a whimpering cry, but a deep, heartfelt. The woman is crying so much that she is able to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with the hair of her head.
To describe her as conspicuous is quite an understatement because her every single action would have drawn further attention, glaring stares, and shock to guests in the room, especially the Pharisee. In the Talmud – a Jewish commentary – it is stated that for a woman to let down her hair in the presence of men was a major no-no. In fact, if the woman were married, this action of letting down her hair was grounds for divorce. It was considered a shameful action.
2) A Critical Spirit.
Look at what Luke says in response to this woman’s actions in verse 39, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” He is just shocked that this woman is even touching Jesus and that Jesus allows it!
We learn the Pharisee’s name in verse 40, “And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’” Someone said this statement is like Jesus’ throwing a grenade to Simon. After all, Simon had just said to himself, “if this man were a prophet, He would know who this woman is,” and it is obvious that Jesus heard exactly what Simon had thought.
Pharisees were a religious group in Jesus’ day. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that there were as many as six thousand Pharisees during the time of Christ. And these Pharisees were not only powerful and influential, they had a tendency to be critical and judgmental. And the reason for this tendency was because they had such a high estimation of themselves as the morally upright upper crust.
The very word “Pharisee” means, “separated one.” These men separated themselves from the common people and their common ways. They were therefore thought of as highly moral and superior in righteousness, given their strict adherence to tradition and law.
3) A Compassionate Savior.
Jesus tells a parable to illustrate His compassion for those who know the depth of their sin and their need for God’s forgiveness. In verse 41, Jesus says, “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.” The money lender loans money to two people. One owes the equivalent of two years’ wages and the other owes the equivalent of two months’ wages. Neither of the two could pay down the debt or pay off the debt. And if you didn’t pay off your debt in those days you could be thrown into debtor’s prison. So, both of these debtors in the parable are in the same boat.
Verses 42-43 tell us, “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more? Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’” And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’” In other words, “Good answer, Simon! You have answered correctly.” And it makes sense, doesn’t it? The person who knows his debt to be so great and sees no way out of the situation, is likely to be more grateful when the debt is forgiven than the one who feels his debt is manageable.
This latter debtor may not even feel the same need as the other. Consequently, when his debt is forgiven he is not as likely to love in the same way the other loves. Jesus continues in verse 44, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.’”
Washing a visitor’s feet was a common near Middle East practice. If you wear open-toed sandals everywhere, your feet will get dirty and dusty. You washed the feet of your dinner guests before they reclined for meal. Simon had not done so. Apparently, Simon regarded Jesus as one of the “commoners” of the community. Jesus adds in verses 45-46, “You gave Me no kiss (a popular eastern greeting even today), but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil (showing courtesy and hospitality), but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.”
The sinful woman
Did for Jesus
The morally religious
Person failed to do.
Perhaps Simon reasoned the way many professing Christians reason today: “Isn’t it enough that I invited you here?!” Isn’t it enough that I go to worship every Sunday?!”
Then we read this statement by Jesus in verse 47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Forgiven much . . .
Love much . . .
They go together:
If one knows his
Or her sins
To be many –
And is forgiven –
he or she will love
Much in response.
The sinful woman had been forgiven of her many sins. Consequently, she loved much! At some point she had placed her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and knew therefore the loving forgiveness He brings.
We read in verses 48-50 that Jesus reassures her that her sins had been forgiven, “Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’
There is a difference
Between being “religious”
And being saved.
The woman knew the difference. When was the last time you shed a tear for your sin? And if we know anything of the gospel, we too, know the difference. And we will identify more with the prostitute than with the religious man.
Simon is detached, cold, and stoic. It seems he wants Jesus to be there, but he also wants to keep Him at arm’s length. He probably invited Jesus over for something of an academic experience or religious seminar.
Simon seems comfortable
So long as he himself
Is in control.
On the other hand,
Gives up control.
She knows how dark her sin is in the presence of the bright light of Christ. She gives up control. She surrenders.
Only when we know
The depth of our sin
Are we able to know
The vastness of God’s mercy.
Geoff Thomas puts it another way: “If you figure that you are a ‘little sinner’ then all you need is a ‘little Savior.’ If you think you are a ‘moderate sinner’ then what you’ll need is a ‘moderate Savior.’ But if you are a ‘big sinner’ you’ll need a ‘big Savior.’ Those who have a little Savior will love him little, while those who have a big Savior will love him greatly.”
We all need a big Savior. The religious people had muttered, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (verse 49). And this is precisely the point . . .
Jesus forgives sins
Because Jesus is God.
Jesus is a big Savior to all who know the depth of their sins. This leads to several realities:
All Who Receive Jesus As Savior And Lord Will Have Genuine Love And Gratitude For Him.
The Pharisee doesn’t really see himself as much of a sinner. He considers himself morally upright. He keeps the Law. He probably thought to himself: ”I would never live like this lowly prostitute!” He really doesn’t regard himself as much of a sinner. So how then does he treat Christ as a result?
He treats Christ as just a common, ordinary person. He doesn’t give Him a proper greeting, doesn’t wash His feet, and is shocked when Jesus doesn’t recoil in disgust in the presence of the woman.
The woman, however, regards herself as a sinner. She knows the depth of her sin. By comparison, how then does she treat Christ? She loves Him. She has endless love for Christ and endless gratitude to Christ.
If you know you have
Been forgiven much,
You will love much.
If you know the
Depth of your sin,
You will love Jesus greatly.
You will never get over
The vastness of God’s mercy
In His forgiveness of you.
This is the whole point of Jesus’s parable. Here is a lender who lends money to two people and each finds himself unable to repay the debt. So the lender graciously absorbs the debt.
In these situations, debt is never truly cancelled. It is simply transferred to another. The payment of the two debtors is absorbed, or paid for, by the money lender. Jesus equates Himself with the lender. Indeed . . .
This is precisely what Christ accomplishes
For all who will believe in Him:
The debt of the woman – and the debt of the Pharisee – is absorbed, or transferred – to Jesus on the cross.
Jesus Christ pays off
The sin debt of others.
So . . .
It costs much for sinful women
And self-righteous Pharisees
To be forgiven.
It cost the death of Christ
On a Roman cross.
In one sense, it really doesn’t matter whether we regard ourselves as “a little sinner” or “a big-time sinner.” If you’re on an airplane that will soon explode in the air, then it really doesn’t matter whether you are seated in first class or coach. Self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and a critical spirit . . .
All these things vanish
When we realize
That before God
We are all sinners
Equally in need
Of a Savior.
The Pharisee was worried about getting a seat in first class, but he’s in the same predicament as the woman seated near the restroom in coach.
All Who Receive Jesus As Savior And Lord Will Have Genuine Love And Forgiveness For Others.
When you have experienced God’s forgiveness and the wideness of His mercy, and you identify with the sinful woman, then you are in a better position to understand and forgive others (your co-worker, your wife, your husband, your children etc.) when they hurt you. When I am hurt or treated wrongly by others, I feel so justified in my anger. Then, the Holy Spirit does His good work on me and I sense my Heavenly Father asking, “What about how you have treated Me?” What about the times you have hurt Me, my son? Do I not have a right to be angry with you? Shall I stop forgiving you, cut off My mercy and My forgiveness towards you?”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”