A few weeks ago I preached a sermon entitled Scandalous Grace, based on the following passage from Luke’s gospel.
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, 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. 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.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:37-50)
There is much we can learn from the three characters in the narrative: The Pharisee, The Prostitute, and The Prince of Peace.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders devoted to God. The Hebrew form of the word Pharisee means separated ones . . . loyal to God. The Pharisees were extreme, not only in following the Law of God, but in adding so much to it they were blind to the appearing of the Messiah, even though He was in their very midst—even in this man’s home!
Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to his house for a meal. In those days, it was a common courtesy that guests would be greeted with a kiss when they arrived, their feet would be washed, and their heads anointed with oil. Simon omitted all these courtesies for Jesus. The honored guest was totally dishonored by the Pharisee.
Notice this woman is known to the reader only as a “woman of the city who was a sinner.” To be sure, we are all sinners by nature and practice. But this woman was a sinner by profession. She is the sinner Solomon warns young men about: “Her house inclines unto death and her paths unto the dead.” Great was her sin! The Truth, who never exaggerated, said her sins were many. Yet she freely gave Jesus the common courtesies omitted by Simon. She wet his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, anointed them with ointment, and ceased not to kiss them. Her godly sorrow for her life of sin was put on display for all to see. The Pharisee rebuked her . . . but Jesus received her.
The Prince of Peace
Jesus received this sinner to His own detriment. He was condemned by Simon for allowing such a sinner to handle Him. He was always being condemned for the company He kept. Consider this scene from another dinner table:
As he reclined at table in [Levi’s] house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17)
The one thing the sinful woman who dared enter Simon’s home needed—forgiveness of her sins—she received from Jesus. Not only did Jesus receive her, He spoke up and defended her. In front of the condemning crowd, she heard absolution pronounced by her Prince of Peace.
This passage from Luke is so rich in truth and comfort for those who see themselves as great sinners in need of an even greater Savior!
So . . . how do you see yourself today? The more we peer behind the curtain of the Gospel, the more we see ourselves like the prostitute rather than the Pharisee. We recognize that even “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). And the more we see ourselves like the prostitute, the less we have to pretend we are better than we are and the sooner we can step off the performance treadmill. Jesus loves us just the way we are, but He also loves us so much as not to leave us there!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!