Dinner with a Pharisee and a Forgiven Woman
Dearly loved people of God,
Jesus has dinner with two memorable people. Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus so he can judge this teacher’s teaching, gathering evidence firsthand. Uninvited, and unnamed, a deeply grateful woman comes too.
Simon, a deeply religious Pharisee, has a reputation to maintain, so he is careful to avoid the impression that he approves of Jesus. Let’s name it: He’s so concerned about his reputation, he’s rude. He’ll eat with Jesus, but the usual courtesies of foot-washing, a welcoming kiss, and anointing oil somehow get missed.
Imagine a visit where the host doesn’t shake your hand, doesn’t take your coat, and ignores your request for a place to freshen up before the meal. This isn’t hospitality; it’s rude. Not a warm setting for a friendly chat, is it?
The awkwardness of this dinner increases a hundredfold by an uninvited visitor who feelings towards Jesus spill out of control. The frosty formality is punctured with her weeping. Her tears make Jesus’ feet very wet. Surprised by the puddle, she undoes her braid to mop the tears with her hair.
But she has a plan in mind. The Pharisee’s disapproving sniffs aren’t going to stop her from taking out a precious bottle of perfume and emptying it out on Jesus’ feet. There is surprising gratitude and overwhelming relief in all she does.
Pause that scene.
Consider the 2 people in the tableau around Jesus: a frosty Pharisee and a grateful, weeping woman. Who do you identify with: Are you on the bench with Simon or on your knees with the woman?
The Pharisee is quite comfortable with his world:
clear categories of holy people and sinners and ne’er the twain shall meet
o unwilling to have religious assumptions challenged, even by God’s greatest prophet!
unwilling to have religious assumptions challenged, even by God’s greatest prophet!
from his bench at the table, he’s able to judge Jesus, judge the woman, judge Jesus’ parable
The weeping, grateful woman – overwhelmed by her experience of Jesus’ generosity, grace, and forgiveness
Jesus’ acceptance despite her guilt struck a chord deep within this woman.
The Pharisee has her pegged as a “sinner.” It’s almost automatic to assume her sins are sexual sins. “Tax collectors and prostitutes” are clumped together in the clichés. But the Pharisees’ category of “sinner” covers a multitude of sins.
She would be labelled a sinner if she didn’t keep kosher as rigorously as a Pharisee: cooking and cleaning according to the strictest interpretation of the OT books of Lev. and Deut.
Something as simple as disagreement on a point of doctrine could leave you open to being called a “sinner.”
To Simon, her identity as a sinner was a warning label: Ä contamination. Don’t touch. Sadly, Simon wasn’t interested in her restoration. His judgement of her sinful state was mainly selfish; he didn’t want to be contaminated.
The label was a burden on this woman. She felt the full brunt of the Pharisee’s judgement. The label of “sinner” weighed heavily on her. I’ve encountered this burden of guilt.
A grandmother and pillar of the church who doubted her salvation because of her sense of guilt
A single mother felt judged by fellow church-goers long after son became a teenager; she always felt 2nd class
By contrast, Jesus’ grace and forgiveness are so rare and so unexpected and so much what she yearned for, that Jesus’ attitude towards her touched her to the core.
We’re not told what happened earlier to create this tearful, grateful intrusion. But Luke paints a scene of contrast between the Pharisee and the sinful woman. And then there’s Jesus’ parable of the two debtors.
Who will love the moneylender more? Someone forgiven a debt of 500 denarii? Or the one forgiven 50 denarii? A denarii = a day’s wages. Therefore, 500x8hx$14/h = -$106 000
Judgemental Simon judges Jesus’ parable correctly, “the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Forgiveness is at the heart of this passage in Luke’s gospel. Forgiveness and the Love that wells up in response.
That’s why I asked who you identified with in this part of the gospel. Those who identify with Simon, are in a tough spot. It’s hard to hear the call to repent when you think you’re doing really well. Jesus made his mission clear:
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Until Simon sees a need to repent, dining with Jesus won’t do much good. Simon is stuck on his bench, judging others with no sense of his own debts before God’s judgement.
Make no mistake, exercising discernment is necessary. You can’t live or work without weighing evidence. But, sitting in judgement on other people, without the empathy that arises from shared debts before God, is condemned repeatedly in Scripture.
If you identify with the woman; aware of your need for forgiveness, burdened by your identity as a “sinner,” then I’ve got good news. The gospel might awaken deep emotions of relief and thankfulness.
Sinner are not just called to repentance, there’s more to the story than guilt and the humiliation of confession. In Jesus, sinners are accepted, loved, and forgiven. Their response relates to how much they feel they’ve been forgiven. Jesus said, “whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.”
This is not encouragement to go out and sin big sins. I know, giving a testimony that plumbs the depths of depravity makes everyone sit up and listen. There’s guilty pleasure in hearing other people’s misdeeds. But God’s Word tackles the temptation to commit big sins in
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
No, wading into sin so you can be forgiven lots is messed up thinking. We’re each carrying enough guilt as it is.
Sin is absolute. Either you love God wholeheartedly or you don’t. Either you have selfless love for your neighbour or you don’t. The degree of sin isn’t relevant.
Until we realize and confess our guilt, the gospel doesn’t do much good. Each needs to own up: I’m guilty of sin.
God’s judgement of sin is just. He created humans perfectly able to live without sin. Adam & Eve lost that ability for us when they disobeyed. They doomed all of us to bear the weight of guilt and to live under the penalty of death.
God isn’t only just, he’s also compassionate and loving. Luke’s gospel demonstrates Jesus’ compassion, for Jesus is God the Son, who entered creation to suffer for humankind’s sin. At the cross, Jesus suffered and died to remove our guilt. Jesus died, but rose again to forgive sin and give life.
Somehow the woman who crashed Simon’s banquet had caught sight of Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness. We’re not told how. But consider the relief of someone, labeled a “sinner” by Pharisees, who dares enter a Pharisee’s house and under Simon’s disapproving scowl is determined to break open her precious alabaster jar of perfume and pour all her love on to her rescuer’s feet. Can’t ignore that!
Her love and her deep emotions pour out with the perfume. Oh it’s messy, but it’s real. We don’t often get to see people’s deepest feelings like this. It might make us squirm, but Jesus got it. He got the contrast between judgemental Simon and the grateful woman. He told Simon:
You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.
Great forgiveness results in great love.
Recently I was talking with my kids about the different kinds of love. Greek has 3 words for love: eros, philos, and agape.
Eros is the root of our word erotic – it a physical, sexual love. We’re talking “eros” when we speak of making love.
Philos is a deep friendship. It’s at the root of the word “Philosophy” – a love of knowledge.
Jesus is talking of agape love. A theological dictionary defines of this love in this passage as “new life awakened and the person now has love, is filled with it and is guided by love in all their actions. Love is a spontaneous movement up to the One by who it is released.”
That love and relief at her forgiveness caused this woman to pour out her precious perfume on Jesus’ feet.
Our love and relief at our forgiveness likewise expresses gratitude and love, unconcerned about our dignity, our possessions, or the approval of others. God the HS uses this wellspring of love to help us love God and love our neighbours.