By Mark Scott
Love and forgiveness are inextricably linked. The reason that God forgives so well is because his love is ginormous. Love without forgiveness is only academic. Forgiveness without love is hypocritical. In Luke 7 we move from the amazing faith of the centurion (vv. 1-10) to the shameless faith of the penitent woman (vv. 36-50). Typical to the stories of the Gospels, it is hard to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In most cases there is something upside down going on.
Shameless Pharisee & Sinful Woman
Most people who invited Jesus for dinner got more than they bargained for. Jesus could make the table conversation uncomfortable (Luke 14:7-11), and he had a tendency to rearrange the guest list (vv. 12-24). Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus accepted. He ate with the religious leaders about as much as he ate with “sinners.”
In Jesus’ day Pharisees would have been viewed as the epitome of righteousness. In a culture where honor and shame was the currency, any Pharisee would have been valued as shameless. But as this dinner progressed, Simon’s true colors began to show. It is hard not to feel that Simon’s motives were suspect in inviting Jesus.
The woman here is unknown. (She is not Mary, who perfumed Jesus’ feet in Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; and John 12:1-8.) But this woman is labeled. She lived a sinful life and Simon affirmed that she is a sinner. This label could mean she was one of the people of the land who cared little for the customs of the law or it could mean that she lived the life of a prostitute. Either way she did a brazen thing. She entered Simon’s house (rude to us but more common in that world), entered the men’s dining room, spilled her tears on Jesus’ feet, undid her hair (which was her glory, 1 Corinthians 11:15), wiped her tears with her hair, and kissed his feet while pouring perfume on them. Simon blew a gasket. The worst thing to him was that Jesus let her do it. Simon, the seemingly shameless Pharisee, could conclude only one thing: Jesus was no prophet.
Jesus answered Simon’s thoughts as if Simon had voiced them. The simple three-point parable connects the dots of grace, love, and shameless faith. Simon’s view was about to be subverted. In the parables of Jesus, landowners, fathers, kings, and bankers often play the role of God. The banker in this story will be filled with grace. This parable is succinct. A moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii (two years’ worth of salary). The other owed 50 denarii. For whatever crazy reason the moneylender forgave (literally, graced) them both. Jesus turned the story into an interrogative parable and Simon condemned himself with his answer, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus affirmed Simon’s response. It is the grace of God that makes a sinful woman an example of shameless faith.
Shameless Woman & Sinful Pharisee
Jesus brought his succinct parable home in no uncertain terms. Simon had failed the basic tests of ancient-world hospitality (foot washing, warm greetings, and gifts). The sinful woman supplied all three common courtesies. She did not just wash Jesus’ feet; she washed them with her tears. She did not just give him the typical Middle Eastern greeting of a warm embrace and kiss to the cheek; she repeatedly kissed his feet. She did not just give him a gift of oil; she poured oil on his feet. Then Jesus made a stunning pronouncement—one of the most significant in the Gospels. Her sins, which Jesus acknowledged were many, have been forgiven (sent away or canceled—different than “graced” which was used previously). In fact he stated this again to her and affirmed the forgiveness by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Simon ended up being sinful because of his shrunken heart. The penitent woman ended up being shameless in her faith because she loved much. Simon needed to understand what Lewis Smedes said: “To forgive is to set the prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner was you.”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.