Most of us have heard the old saying “Judge not lest ye be judged.” In Luke 7:36-50 we see an example of this saying. Simon judged the prostitute, and in turn Jesus judged Simon. Most of us do not need the help of others to judge ourselves. We know that we have sinned, perjured ourselves, done or said things that we should not have done or said, and not done or said those things we should have done or said.
Jesus judged the woman. He puts a face to God’s judgment, and it is a judgment of love. It is not a judgment of ridicule, or rejection, or hopelessness, or boredom, or eternal condemnation. Luke sets this story in the context of sin and forgiveness. Those who are forgiven little love little, but those who are forgiven much, love lavishly. Simon’s love is thin because he doesn’t recognize his need for grace. In contrast, the woman knows full well the extent of her own sin and the wide embrace of Jesus’ forgiveness. This is an important lesson, and Jesus teaches it beautifully in the parable of the creditor and the debtors.
This story should not be confused with similar stories in Matthew, Mark, and John, which took place in Bethany. The woman here is not Mary, the sister of Lazarus of Bethany, because Luke describes the woman as a prostitute. Little does this Pharisee know he is a sinner as well. The two figures in this story provide a striking contrast: a woman of ill repute who came to Jesus recognizing her need for forgiveness, and an upstanding religious leader who was as lost as he could be.
It would have been shocking for everyone who attended to see a woman with such a low reputation come to a Pharisee’s house. Dinners like the one at Simon’s house would have been open to spectators, but no one would have expected a prostitute to attend. Her coming took a lot of courage, but she was desperate to receive forgiveness. Her weeping was an expression of deep sorrow and repentance.
The Pharisees were lay leaders who were full of self-religious pride. They maximized everybody else’s faults and minimized their own faults. The Pharisees thought that touching a prostitute would ceremonially defile them, so they never intentionally went near such a person. Jesus allowed this prostitute not only to touch Him but to wash His feet and lavish them with kisses. This was the custom-if someone saved your life, you would come to that person and kiss his feet.
Simon was shocked that this prostitute walked boldly into the dinner party and that Jesus did not immediately rebuke her and send her away. Simon believed the Lord’s behaviour proved He was not a prophet. Jesus continually broke the norms and shocked the establishment-something He still does today.
Although he was a Pharisee, Simon was spiritually lost. The Pharisees were religious men, highly respected by the Jewish people. They knew the Law and Scriptures thoroughly. It is likely most of the other dinner guests were Pharisees. Simon could not deny the truth of this powerful parable-but his answer (“I suppose”) indicates he was not a willing receiver of it. Simon fell into Jesus’ trap.
Simon’s reaction reveals a lot about who he was and why he invited Jesus to the party. He did not invite Jesus as a social equal and he did not provide the usual amenities for Jesus. He invited Jesus as a curiosity. He heard that Jesus was a prophet and he wanted to see for himself who this questionable celebrity was.
The custom in Jewish culture, dating all the way back to Abraham, was to have a basin of water at the door so when guests walked in from the dusty streets, a servant could wash their dirty feet. Simon apparently ignored this. He also neither offered any anointing oil for the Lord’s head nor the friendly kiss of greeting that was the ancient equivalent of shaking hands. Jesus contrasted the woman’s loving actions with Simon’s lack of them.
Like Simon and the Pharisees, many people are certain about whom God includes, who is worthy of God’s love. If we spent as much time embodying the faith of the woman as we do figuring out those who don’t do faith as they should, how much farther the church would be ahead when it comes to living and securing God’s righteousness.
The gift of ointment, her tears, and her behaviour showed that the woman’s old life had ended and a new life had begun. With His word of forgiveness, Jesus lifted her burden of guilt and she responded with overflowing gratitude. Because she had been forgiven so much, she washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed His feet with expensive ointment. Her many sins were forgiven because she loved Jesus so much. If we don’t see how great our sins are, Jesus’ sacrifice will not seem large. In fact, it might seem like overkill. When we know how great our sins are, His sacrifice will inspire deep love.
God’s kingdom and the Gospel it heralds will have the greatest appeal and the greatest impact on those who know they need grace and mercy the most. The high and mighty in society are usually the last to feel that way. Simon didn’t know that his own deepest longing should have been to have Jesus turn to him and say the same thing He said to the woman-“Your sins are forgiven.”
Simon doesn’t understand the true nature of God’s love and acceptance. Simon would reject the woman and think that she was unworthy of God’s forgiveness. Although Simon no doubt heard Jesus teach, he had not accepted His message. Instead of inviting Him into his heart, Simon invited Him to dinner. Many people still have that sort of superficial relationship with Jesus. They are social believers-they would like Him as a dinner companion-but they do not want Him any closer, certainly not as Saviour.
This story is all about forgiveness. When we know we are forgiven, we don’t have time to judge people any more. All we can do is be grateful and show that gratitude by forgiving others. When we forgive others, we release a hold not only on the other person, but also on the grudge we were holding, on the hunger for the revenge we were harboring, and on a life dominated by the past.
Jesus wants us to realize that we are all like the woman. She came to Jesus with a large sin debt. When we, like the woman, kneel at Jesus’ feet and pour out our love, we will be healed. Jesus teaches us about Grace and mercy. Grace is getting something wonderful that we don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting something terrible that we do deserve.
The essence of the Gospel is the love of God. God’s love is very different. God loves us just the way we are now. There is nothing we can do that can make Him love us more than He does right now. If we respond to His love He will not leave us as we are.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1399)
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 139-142)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Lucy Lind Hogan, “Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Debie Thomas, “What the Body Knows.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- David Lose, “Pentecost 4C: It’s All About Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Scott Hoezee, “Luke 7:36-8:3 Commentary.” Retrieved from https://cepreaching.org/authors/scott-hoezee/
- Karoline Lewis, “Your Faith Has Saved You.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Edward Markquart, “The Woman With the Ointment.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
- Br. Curtis Almquist, “Sin, So Tedious; Love So Enduring.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org