“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Read Luke 7:36-50.
Have you ever had an unwanted, uninvited or unexpected house guest? To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was the scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie when Clark Griswold’s wife’s cousins show up in their run-down RV and park it in front of their house. The look on Clark’s face is priceless! Not only is his cousin Eddie loud and annoying, but they seem to be throwing a glitch in Clark’s attempt to have a “good old-fashioned family Christmas.” But if it weren’t for Eddie kidnapping Clark’s boss later in the movie, then Clark probably wouldn’t have gotten that big end-of-the-year bonus he was so desperately hoping for.
Luke 7:36 begins with the introduction to a second dinner party in which Jesus is invited as a guest, presumably the guest of honor. But right away we notice some contrasts with the previous dinner. Whereas the first dinner party was hosted by a group of sinners and the Pharisees were on the outside looking in, this dinner is hosted by a Pharisee and is presumably attended by other Pharisees. Whereas Levi had found forgiveness of sins and became a disciple of Jesus, Simon was still deciding who he thought Jesus was — at best, a prophet.
But while these table scenes unfold very differently, the theme is still consistent with where we left off in chapter 5 — Jesus has come to sinners to offer forgiveness of sins.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Although Jesus ended our last passage by saying he is called to go to sinners, it doesn’t mean he is refusing the same offer of grace to the Pharisees (the so-called “righteous ones”). Did you notice how often Luke says “Pharisees” within the first couple of verses of our text? We’re not to miss that Jesus was having dinner with a Pharisee! Now Pharisees were what you would call legalists; they interpreted the law in such a way that they added more restrictions than the law itself. The goal was to “build a fence around the law,” so that one would not even get close to breaking the commands of the Torah. They were very concerned with holiness and separating themselves from those who were sinners or impure. This often led to an arrogant attitude.
So knowing how concerned they were with purity, we shouldn’t miss the exclamation in verse 37 — behold! Oh no! Or, oh my goodness, as my son likes to say. The most embarrassing thing has happened! “A woman of the city” came in uninvited and crashed the party. In case you miss what kind of woman she is, Luke adds, you know, the sinner kind of woman. Most likely, if you can read through the lines and get what Luke is trying to say without saying it bluntly, this woman was a city prostitute and probably had clients who were Gentiles! Not only does this woman come in and break all impurity rules and, God forbid, transmit some of her impurity onto those around the table, but what she does next is completely inappropriate and socially unacceptable. Joel Green writes that this woman’s actions were “erotic.” He says, “Letting her hair down in this setting would have been on a par with appearing topless in public, for example.” Can you even imagine! Well let’s not imagine too much, but I think it gets the picture across how shameful her actions would have seemed.
I know this is not the same thing, but what if a house guest of yours took of his shoes and socks and put his feet on the table during dinner? If you have a foot phobia like my sister and my friend Katie, then you probably just shuddered or felt ill. If either of the two analogies (topless or feet on table) made you sick or disgusted, then Simon’s judgments might seem defensible. Who wouldn’t be offended by this woman wiping her let-down hair on Jesus’ feet! Green says further that her actions could have “appeared to be fondling Jesus’ feet, like a prostitute or a slave girl accustomed to providing sexual favors.” Isn’t Jesus concerned by how he might be perceived? Isn’t he concerned that associating with her and letting her carry on in this way that he might damage his reputation or his mission? Won’t Jesus risk leading men in the room astray? Already we see that Jesus isn’t too concerned with whom he associates and how others might incorrectly interpret his associations. Just read Luke 7:33-34! His mission is to bring the message of forgiveness to sinners. Period. End of the story. Jesus isn’t so much concerned how their reputation will rub off on him or contaminate him, like the Pharisees thought. Rather, Jesus will rub off on them, so to speak. They will be transformed into his image.
Simon thinks that because Jesus is letting this woman touch him in this way that Jesus must not be a prophet. If he were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she was! However the irony is that Jesus is able to perceive Simon’s thoughts and heart demonstrating that he is indeed a prophet (and much greater!). Jesus reinterprets this woman’s actions for Simon (and the others). She isn’t asking for favors; rather, her actions show a broken and repentant heart. In humility she washes one of the most undesirable parts of the body giving up probably one of her most costly possessions at the feet of Jesus. She is serving Jesus out of love.
In Simon’s judgment of this woman, he failed to see his own sin. It was easy to see this woman’s sin. It was obvious. But, unlike Simon, she knew she was a sinner and was broken over her sin. As a result she found forgiveness of sins. Not only does this woman get Jesus and his mission, but through her actions she shames Simon as host. And Jesus calls Simon out over it. Whereas Simon failed to fulfill his role as host or the social expectations of hospitality, this woman acted as host and in her hospitality she went over and beyond what is even expected.
The uninvited and unwelcomed guest was a sinful woman in need of grace. But don’t miss this beautiful irony. (I just love this! And it’s beautiful for all of us sinners who have found grace!) When the great banquet, called the marriage supper of the Lamb, spoken of in Revelation 19 comes Jesus will be the host and this woman who was once uninvited will be invited. Whereas her name will appear on the guest list, the Pharisees around that table (that is those who never repented) will be the uninvited ones. The uninvited in our story will be invited.
What about you? Will you be on that guest list? Have you found forgiveness of sins like this woman in our passage? Or, like Simon, are you unaware of the sin in your life and unwilling to recognize Jesus as having the authority to forgive sins? Is there anyone you are refusing to invite and welcome to hear the gospel because you’ve already made a judgment that they are “too far gone”? Is the identity and mission of Jesus as outlined in yesterday’s and today’s post the same Jesus that you follow? Or are you posturing Jesus as just another prophet or great teacher?