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Encounters with Jesus

“Much Forgiveness—Much Love”

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-49)

36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silverto one and 50 pieces to the other. 42But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” 50And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This passage in Luke’s Gospel comes in a series of three short passages related to encounters by Jesus with women around him. The first is that of a widow woman who had just lost her only son. Jesus has compassion for her, stops the funeral procession, and raises her dead son to life, amazing the crowd.

The third passage is a summary statement about the fact that many woman began following Jesus in his ministry: Mary Magdalene, from whom 7 demons had been cast out; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s business manager; Susanna, and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. Isn’t it amazing that the Kingdom of God was financed, in part, by the private funds of women! The kingdom is for EVERYONE, ladies and gentlemen!

But this morning I want to focus on this middle passage about the worship of Jesus by a “sinful woman” in the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Luke is the only evangelist who records this particular anointing. The other three Gospels tell the story of Mary, the brother of Lazarus, anointing Jesus’s feet (or in the case of Mark, his head) just hours before his arrest and crucifixion as a sign of his burial.

Though some scholars question Luke’s account since it stands alone from the others, it may be reasonable that Luke witnessed this event and chose to include it rather than the other anointing. Regardless, theological significance of Luke’s account is worth exploring.

Not much is known about the host named Simon, other than he was a Pharisee. It’s interesting that in a previous exchange between Jesus and these same dinner guests earlier in chapter 7, Jesus was calling them to task for calling John the Baptist demon-possessed and Him a glutton, drunkard, and friend of tax collectors and other sinners. Yet, here he is—in the next frame having dinner in the home of one of those Pharisees!

Jesus, it seems, is willing to spend time with and even love those who disagree with him. Cassie and I did something we rarely do—we went to the movies to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Fred Rogers. The movie is based on the real-life friendship between Mr. Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. In the movie, The journalist’s name is Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, angry young man who most people avoided as the subject of one of Vogel’s articles.

But not Mr. Rogers. He warmly welcomes Vogel, befriends him, and shows him enormous patience and love. This, I believe, is what Jesus is doing by accepting an invitation to dine at Simon’s house. Jesus HAD to know he would be the target of many “trick” questions or scornful comments, given the track record of the Pharisees. But he chose to break bread with them anyway. That’s love.

They were reclining at table, which means they were leaning on one elbow around a short-legged table while they stretched out their legs away from the table. This was the cultural norm of the day. As they were reclining, in comes a woman of immoral character.

I wonder: how did she get in? Who did she know to “crash the party?” Apparently, according to commentator William Barclay, in that culture anyone was free to attend and listen to the dinner conversation of religious leaders. Strange, but apparently true, because THERE she was!

What did she DO to be considered a “sinner?” We don’t know. Most scholars assume she had been a prostitute. We don’t know how she came into that lifestyle. It’s quite likely that she had been sexually abused as a child, making her ineligible for a legitimate Jewish marriage. Or maybe she is a widow struggling to survive. We can’t say and we should know better than to judge her harshly. That was the subject of LAST week’s message in John 8!

There’s something else we may deduce about this woman: she was emotionally down. Her self-image was low. She was likely the continual object of criticism and insults. She is the example many mothers in town use to warn their daughters. She is shunned by the best people and used and abused by the worst.

Inwardly, she is broken and hurting. Her spirit is wounded. Maybe you’ve felt like that; maybe you feel like that right now. You’ve failed miserably, and though time has passed, you’re still humiliated and unsure, and feel too weak and fragile to pick yourself up and move on.

For her to come to the banquet at Simon’s house is scary, too. She is viewed as a sinner, one who conveys uncleanness by her very touch, almost as if she has a communicable disease. She knows that Simon will not be happy to see her in his house.

But the sinful woman heard that Jesus would be there, so she COULDN’T stay away! My guess is that this woman has previously heard Jesus’s gracious words of God’s love, forgiveness, healing and restoration. She has heard him speak of his Father’s Kingdom in words so plain and compelling that she can see herself as a child of God once more, a full citizen in this Kingdom of Love. Yes, she is still broken, but now she can see the possibility of forgiveness and hope beyond her choices and circumstances.

We also know what she did for our Master and how the host reacted. First, she was weeping as she knelt down at Jesus’s feet, wiping them with her hair. To go about in public with her hair down was considered a shameful thing to do, yet she is not deterred. It was customary for only certain women, like prostitutes, to wear their hair down. She must have been one of “those” women.

Then she kept kissing his feet and putting expensive perfume on them. The act of kissing another person’s feet TODAY may be seen as a sexual gesture, but not in Jesus’s day. When she opened that alabaster jar of expensive perfume, the room would have immediately been filled with the fragrance. If she hadn’t been noticed before by the dinner guests, she surely would be now!

All of these things—weeping and wiping, kissing and pouring—are acts of love…acts of thanksgiving and worship. The story could stop here, and it be a beautiful expression of what our response should be to God’s amazing forgiveness and love.

But, as is often the case, the evangelist wants us to see and understand more clearly. So, there’s more to the story. It’s a story of contrasts. In contrast to the woman’s worship of Jesus, Luke lets us hear Simon’s thoughts…not only about his feelings toward the “sinful woman” but also toward his guest of honor. Simon thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” What is the standard by which Simon judges this woman? The Law. She’s considered a sinner because she broke Jewish Law. A Jew doesn’t talk to, let alone TOUCH, a sinner!

Aren’t you glad we can’t go around hearing the thoughts around us?

  • Why on earth did she wear that outfit?
  • I can’t believe the two of them are still together after what he did!
  • I wonder how HE can afford that new truck!
  • I’m glad I don’t have to live with her!?

Here’s the scary thing: Jesus CAN hear our thoughts. He knows what we’re going to say, do, AND THINK before we say and do it! Yikes! Should that change the focus of our thoughts
Jesus answered Simon’s thoughts! In typical awesomeness, Jesus goes BRILLIANT on the Pharisees. He tells Simon a parable. Two men owed money to another man—one owed about 50 days’ worth of wages and the other owed a year and a half days’ worth of wages! The kind and generous man forgives BOTH men’s debts. Simple question: who loved the forgiving man more? Simple answer: the one for whom the most debt was forgiven.

Now here’s the contrast. Jesus points out that Simon did all the wrong things when it comes to cultural norms of hospitality:

  • He did NOT give Jesus a “holy kiss” when he entered the house
  • He did NOT offer water to wash Jesus’s feet
  • He did NOT anoint Jesus’s head with olive oil, another act of refreshment for guests.

In contrast, the woman washed Jesus’s feet with her tears, she continually kissed them, and anointed his feet with expensive perfume, not just common olive oil.
Then Jesus says, 47“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Did you catch it? Her sins are many, yet they are ALL forgiven.

Here’s another question: Were the woman’s sins actually forgiven before she came to Simon’s house, or at this point where Jesus pronounces them forgiven? I would argue for the former. I think she came with perfume, and wept, and kissed Jesus’ feet BECAUSE she had already reached out in faith and accepted the forgiveness of God that he offered in his teaching.

She came because she KNEW she was forgiven; she came out of gratitude; she came out of love. That conforms well to Jesus’ explanation of her actions. She KNEW she was a person undeserving of God’s forgiveness, but had received it, nonetheless. This made her a person of GREAT LOVE!

And—to put an exclamation point on his message to Simon and his judgmental, self-righteous, unforgiving guests—Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” I think SHE already knew that, but THEY needed to know that. If she is declared forgiven…clean…then could she be a part of community again? Would they let her in on their reindeer fun? I doubt it. But Jesus does, and that’s all that matters.

So, what about you? Are you a forgiven person? Or, do you think your sins are so great, you are outside the reach of God’s love? Will you, by faith, accept God’s forgiveness of your sins? Will you accept the free gift of salvation through faith in Him?

If you ARE forgiven, can God tell that you KNOW you’re forgiven by the way you LOVE? By the way you worship Him? Are you a THANKFUL person? Jesus says, “Those who have been forgiven much, LOVE much. But those who have been forgiven little love little.”

Here’s what I think Jesus is trying to tell us. If we are unloving and unforgiving, it’s because we have not sought forgiveness from Jesus and embraced his forgiveness. We have not realized the great gift we’ve received. If God’s gift of salvation has not changed the way we love with a thankful heart, then we ought to question whether we’ve been transformed by the Gospel to begin with.

On the other hand, we may have been “in this game” so long that we’ve forgotten just HOW MUCH God has done for us. We have stopped growing spiritually because of the cares of life around us. We have focused more on the institution of church than on the love relationship with Jesus and with the body of Christ. As a result, we become judgmental, legalistic, cold, and unforgiving.

It’s time we remember what God has done and be thankful. It’s time to let down our hair and wipe the feet of Jesus. Let’s stop worrying about what others think and start showing crazy love for Jesus! How? (1) Through radical forgiveness of others. (2) Through extravagant generosity in our tithes and offerings, as well as our time with those in need. (3) Through authentic, vibrant praise and worship. (4) Through committed faithful reading and following the Word of God.

To those whom many sins have been forgiven, MUCH LOVE IS DEMONSTRATED. AMEN!