The Woman and the Pharisee
Please turn in the pew Bibles to the gospel of Luke chapter 7 and follow along as I read v50. “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’" Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Love Story was a sentimental, romantic tearjerker of a movie that I pretty much despised. This sappy soap opera was produced in 1970 and was a tremendous financial success. It saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy. I said that I did not like the film. Apparently, many other people did. The film had one line that was much repeated: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." That is the kind of statement that sounds profound and good, until you start to think about it, and then you realize that it is utter nonsense. In the reality of life, we are always hurting people that we love, and part of working through our guilt is saying that we are sorry.
God is the one whom we love most of all. All our loves of others are within our love of God. When we hurt God with our sins, we need to say to God, I’m sorry. We say it with both words and actions.
In Luke 7:36-50, we have the story of the woman and the Pharisee. There are three characters in this story: Jesus, a woman who is unnamed, and Simon the Pharisee. We are told in v36 that the Pharisee asked Jesus to come to supper, and Jesus went.
Then verses 37-38 tell us that "a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment."
A lot is not explained here. We are told that she was a prostitute. She obviously knew something about who Jesus was. Perhaps she had seen him before. Perhaps she had heard him teach. She senses something divine about him, and in his presence, she is so overwhelmed by a feeling of her own wickedness that she literally bathes his feet with her tears.
Verse 38 says she stood behind him. In that day they did not sit in chairs at the table. They reclined on one elbow on a kind of low couch. She came up behind him and knelt at his feet, and did the office of a slave for him by washing his feet.
Her tears show us her shame for her sins. She is in the presence of Christ, and she knows who he is. The Pharisee does not know. The Pharisee has no clue about Jesus. Simon thinks he is a religious person. Actually, he has no religious or spiritual discernment at all. But the woman does, the woman senses God in Jesus, and God’s holy presence makes her aware of her sins.
We imagine that she is somewhat confused. She does not yet know that she is forgiven of her sins. That is why she is crying. But she knows somehow that Jesus is the answer to her sins. That is why she is doing what she is doing. Her actions are actions of repentance and love all mingled together.
We are much like this woman. We do not always have our theology worked out in every detail, but we are aware of our sins, and we find in Jesus the answer for our sins. And we love him because he is the answer. The woman washed his feet as an act of love. More than that, she kissed his feet, and she dried his feet with her hair. That was devotion. That was adoration.
And she anointed his feet. This last was not part of ancient Palestinian custom at all. It was their custom to have a slave wash a person's feet, and to anoint the head of a guest with olive oil. This woman anointed Jesus feet. Perhaps she did not feel herself worthy of anointing the head of the Christ. She was so distraught with an awareness of her own sins, and she was so aware of the majesty of Christ, that she cannot bring herself to touch his head. Hence she anoints his feet.
The Hebrew word “Messiah” means “the anointed one.” With this ointment, she recognizes that Jesus is her Messiah, her anointed one.
Now let us turn to Simon the Pharisee who is watching all this. He invited Jesus to supper, he did not invite this woman. She was a prostitute, and Simon was a very religious man who did not consort with such.
We might ask, well, how did she get in his house? But remember that we are dealing with a different culture. People in first century Palestine did not have the sense of privacy that we do. It was slave society, and so slaves were always coming and going. And also people saw nothing odd about coming in off the street and speaking to the people of the house. They would wander in and pass the time of the day.
But, even so, given all that, this woman was an intruder. Simon definitely did not want her there. He despises her because she is a woman and she is a "sinner." And he despises Jesus for allowing her to touch him. This was a big deal. This is still a big deal in orthodox Judaism. Even today, if one of you ladies, as an unclean gentile woman, were to touch a Hasidic Rabbi, you would render him unclean and he would be horrified. He would have to wash and pray and purify himself.
So, Simon the Pharisee was thinking, if this Jesus were any kind of a holy man, he would not allow this woman to touch even his feet. Simon is a proud haughty man, and so he thinks any religious leader would be a proud haughty man. When Jesus is not that way, he thinks Jesus is a fraud. So Simon is thinking, here I have in my home this harlot and this fake.
Now he is too polite to say that. He just sits in offended silence. But Jesus knows what he is thinking, and Jesus responds to Simon’s disapproving stare with a parable. Jesus says a certain creditor had two debtors; one debtor owed five hundred denarii, the other debtor owed fifty denarii. But neither debtor could pay the debt they owed, so the creditor canceled the debts for both of them. Then Jesus finished the parable with a question: "Now which of them will love him more?" (42). Which debtor will love the creditor more? Simon probably was not paying much attention—he was still indignant—but he gives the obvious answer, saying, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt" (43). And Jesus says, you are right. But though Simon gave the right answer, he did not think about how the parable might be applied. The parable is about forgiveness. The creditor was God who forgives our sins. But Simon does not think he needs to be forgiven so this does not mean much to him. And the parable is about love. When we realize how much God has forgiven us, we love God. But Simon does not love God, because he does not need forgiveness, or so he thinks.
On the other hand, the woman realizes that she needs to be forgiven a lot. She is the 500 denarii debtor. That is why she is weeping over her sins and expressing her devotion to Jesus by washing and anointing his feet. Simon’s problem is that he does not realize that he also is the 500 denarii debtor. Simon’s sins are different from the woman’s sins, but he stands just as much in need of forgiveness as she does. But he does not know this, consequently, he is unable to take even the least step toward God. Jesus loves Simon and tries to bring him to God by pointing out his arrogant attitude.
Jesus says that even in the little time he has been in Simon’s home, the Pharisee has insulted him by failing to observe the basic rules of hospitality.
He says, "I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet.” I preached on footwashing several Sabbaths ago. In ancient Palestine, they all wore sandals and walked dirt roads and paths. It was their custom to have water and soap and towels available for guests to wash their feet. Simon had not done this. But this woman who had come in off the street had done it. Again, in v45, Jesus says, "You gave me no kiss." This is a reference to their style of greeting, kissing on the cheeks. Apparently, Simon had some reservations about Jesus from the beginning, and he had not properly greeted him at the door. But, by contrast, the woman, Jesus says, "from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet." Jesus goes further, it was their custom to anoint the head of the guest with olive oil. The oil was mixed with other ingredients to give it a good smell. It was a kind of hair tonic. Jesus says to Simon, You did not do what custom required, but this woman has anointed my feet, not with oil, but with ointment, which was far more expensive. (46)
Now what Jesus is saying to Simon is: You invited me to your house and then treated me like dirt, and this woman had to perform the duties of a host to me. Jesus says, Simon, you think this woman is an awful sinner, and she is. No one denies that. But in the short time we have been together in your home, you have acted like an arrogant jerk, you have been the sinner. Jesus wants Simon to apply to the parable to himself. But he never does that. Simon never repented of anything. He never accepted his need for repentance. Consequently, God never accepted Simon.
So then Jesus applies the parable to the woman. In v47, he says of the woman, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love." As I said earlier, she probably has not got this all reasoned out, so Jesus reasons it out for her. He says, she has been much aware of her sins. She knows that she faces judgment. She turns to Jesus seeking forgiveness. She loves Jesus, she knows she can trust Jesus. That is why she washes and anoints his feet, out of love. She gives evidence of her love by what she does. Simon gives evidence of his lack of love by what he does not do.
So Jesus said to the woman in v48, "Your sins are forgiven." He has already said to Simon in v47 that she is forgiven. That was for Simon’s benefit in hopes that he would apply the lesson to himself. But Simon did not apply the lesson, and Jesus wants to make certain the woman understands this one crucial thing. She is forgiven.
Now we are told in v49 that other people were present at the Pharisee’s supper. This is the first we hear of this, but, in any case, these others ask, Who is this Jesus to forgive sin? The woman already knows the answer. Only God can forgive sin. She accepts Jesus as God. It is because of this acceptance that Jesus says to her in v50, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Three times Jesus says of the woman or to the woman, you are forgiven.
We are all the woman. We are not Simon. We know we have sins. We know we need to say we are sorry to God and prove we are sorry by our actions. Knowing that, we have got to love Jesus, because in Jesus we are assured that we are forgiven. Like the woman, we need to hear that often, because sometimes we wonder if such sins as ours can be forgiven. Yes, they can. Let Jesus say it to you three times. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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