36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 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, 38 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. 39 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.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”Luke 7:36-50, ESV
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 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. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 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.”
A Bold Uninvited Guest.
The scene before us is simple. One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him. This little detail can seem unimportant, but if we recall the previous section in Luke’s narrative, Luke 7:24-35, we can see a contrast that Luke is about to highlight. Contrasting is a beautiful and effective style of Luke’s narrative style. I want us to notice the specific contrast between this section, Luke 36-50, and the previous section contrasts two kinds of people with whom Jesus feasts.
Pharisees roundly criticized Jesus for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. Jesus used that criticism in a public rebuke of their obstinance. It seems that this Pharisee, Simon by name, was listening intently to Jesus’ complaint. Simon may have thought to himself, “Jesus has a point. Our sect has been criticizing and condemning Him for feasting with the unrighteous, but we have not been hospitable toward him. Who else would he keep company with if we ostracize Him? I will invite Jesus to dine at my house.” Do we know Simon’s mind on the matter? No. My suggestion is speculation, but it is a suggestion that is plausible. However, do not be distracted by my imagination because no matter if his motive was good as I suppose or a malicious attempt to tap Him theologically, the result will always be the same.
Jesus graciously accepted the invitation to dine with Simon and his Pharisee friends. As he sat at the table of this dinner party, no doubt discussing theology, a crowd of people likely gathered around to listen in. A crowd gathering to observe a diner may sound strange to us but, this meal is probably enjoyed outside in a kind of courtyard that would have been easy for uninvited guests to watch and listen in. The draw for a group of people to watch and listen might be something like Americans’ interest in older talk shows like ‘Larry King Live.’ The town must have buzzed with curious interest as they wondered how the dinner conversation might turn into a lively debate. Many in that town who wished to watch the intellectual exchange between two opposing religious parties had the opportunity to observe from the fence, as it were.
Strangely enough, in the middle of dinner, one of the uninvited guests broke protocol and rudely interrupted the meal. A woman, likely a prostitute, invited herself in and sat at Jesus’ dirty unwashed feet. She was weeping so strongly that the salty water from her eyes was enough to begin cleaning the mire away. While her tears fell upon Christ’s feet, she wiped the dirt away with her hair and poured out a costly oil on His feet. That ointment was expensive, and she might have used it in her profession.’ If so, the scene we have in front of us may be a glorious picture of repentance. The pouring out would be akin to an alcoholic who pours out all his liquor to distance himself from his sin in a practical and symbolic act of repentance. Simon’s guests’ attention is arrested as this unnamed woman is cleaning Jesus’ feet. All eyes are fixed upon that bold intruder.
A Shameful Standard of Righteousness.
How will Simon respond? Luke gives us insight into the Pharisee’s state of mind. Luke tells us Simon “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.” His reaction was disgust. It appears that Simon is offended that Jesus would allow that “sort of woman” to touch Him.
If Simon’s original diner invitation to Jesus was a symbolic olive branch, then this intrusion may have felt like a breach of trust. Were the criticisms of Jesus’ usual company well-founded? It seems they were because that “sort of women” have never entered Simon’s house before and are most certainly not welcome. It appears that Jesus has attracted the unsavory woman, and Simon’s opinion of Jesus is ruined as a result.
Why is Simon now offended by Jesus? Before Simon’s dinner invitation was given, Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for their duel rejection of Himself and John the Baptist as true prophets of God. In Simon’s mind, Jesus is now the hypocrite. From the perspective of this Pharisee, if Jesus were indeed the kind of prophet that He claimed to be, then He would never let that “sort of woman” touch Him. At least, that was Simon’s opinion.
What was the standard used by Simon, and other Pharisees, to make that kind of judgment? Why would Simon deduce that Jesus could not possibly be a prophet of God if He had any association with a sinful woman? If Simon was a modern-day evangelical, he might answer for himself by appealing to the Bible as his proof. The Pharisees had many rules and traditions, but they were arbitrary. The Pharisees’ rules were often practical applications from reading the Old Testament scriptures. A good question to ask on this point may be, “If the Pharisees were trying to observe God’s Word, then how did they end up rejecting Jesus?” Rather than allowing the Scriptures to inform their opinions of faith and practice, the Pharisees notoriously made their tradition the standard of righteousness. The result is obvious. The law condemns sinners, and every Pharisee would have boldly agreed with that statement. The barrier they were never able to overcome was the definition of “sinners” provide to them by their own sect. That woman was a sinner, but Simon didn’t see himself as a sinner. He did not imagine himself to be perfect, but the definition of a sinner was for people outside the sect and not faithful Pharisees. Simon and his sect were justified themselves and imagine themselves to be law-keepers because of their lifeless interpretation (2 Cor 3:6) of the law (Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, Simon’s standard to judge Jesus as guilty was based upon the Pharisee’s misuse of the Old Testament.
The Crisis of Self-Righteousness.
Self-righteous is not an appealing term. I’ve never met anyone who self-identified as self-righteous, have you? When someone describes another person as being “self-righteous,” that is clearly meant as an insult. When a person recognizes self-righteousness in themselves, they feel ashamed, embarrassed, and apologetic. How would I know what a self-righteous person is feeling? Because I have recognized self-righteousness in myself far too often than I care to admit. Have you ever realized that tendency in yourself? I’m willing to bet the answer is yes, more than once. In modern evangelical circles, the term “Pharisee” is used interchangeably with “self-righteous.” The reason the two words have been so closely related in our evangelical culture is not without warrant. The Pharisees are so often revealing the appalling characteristic of self-righteousness.
If self-righteousness is a characteristic universally despised, then why don’t people simply stop being self-righteous? This question points to the fundamental problem of this characteristic. Self-righteousness is such a natural part of our fallen nature that we can hardly see it at all in ourselves. Usually, to recognize our own self-righteousness, there must be another person to point it out. The Pharisees did not intend to be self-righteous. The problem is everyone is blind to their own self-righteousness. It is like our own face. Everyone else see’s it clearly. We never see it without help.
Jesus sees Simon’s self-righteousness in Luke 7, but that Pharisee can’t see it in himself. What will Jesus do? Will he belittle Simon? Mock him? Write him off? No. Jesus will do the hard thing and engage the issue of pride that hinders Simon from repentance and faith. There has never been such a gracious counselor in all the world before or since Christ. Jesus said, “Simon, I have something to say to you,” and respectfully, Simon invited Jesus to speak freely. Jesus told a story about two debtors who were both unable to repay their individual debts. While Christ could have emphasized the lender’s graciousness in forgiving debts, He chose instead to highlight those debtors’ responses who were forgiven. Jesus asked Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered correctly. The debtor who was shown more forgiveness would, in turn, offer more gratitude than the other debtor.
The Bold Invited Guest.
I always wonder how well Jesus’ original audience was tracking His thought. Simon was well educated and more than likely able to follow Jesus’ points with ease. However, when Jesus began to apply the story, He made sure there was no place for Simon’s pride to hide. Jesus rebuked Simon for his self-righteous thoughts toward the woman and Jesus by contrasting her actions to Simon’s. Essentially, Jesus argued that Simon was culturally responsible to show honor to a guest with a bowl of water to wash, a warm greeting, and a little oil to freshen oneself. Simon did none of the culturally appropriate signs of honor for a guest. However, this woman came to honor Jesus with extravagance. The contrast was clear and personal. Simon was juxtaposed to that apparent prostitute, and Jesus has decidedly portrayed Simon as inferior to her in the issue of honor.
Simon’s mind must have been reeling. The debtors in the story were obviously Simon and the woman, but who then was the lender? Jesus made that point clear as well when he looked to the woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” The rest of the Pharisees who sat at the table were scandalized. They began to murmur among themselves, who does this Jesus think He is? Finally, Jesus dismissed the maid with the blessing of all blessings, as if to say, you are saved by faith alone. In contrast, every Pharisee in attendance departed without that blessing, and therefore they remained in their sins. Their self-righteousness had blinded them from even asking Jesus, the lender, to forgive their debts.
It is ‘bitter-sweet’ to confess that I am that woman debtor in the story. He set me free and is even willing to use me as one of His own!