36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Context and background
This is one of the most beautiful passages and is similar to accounts found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12. They are probably the retelling of two separate incidents. Jesus has already called his disciples and began his ministry; he has healed the sick and raised the dead and John the Baptist has just sent messengers to see if this is the one they are waiting for and the passage we are considering today can almost seem out of place because it is so different to what has gone before it. Its placement is precisely to show who Jesus has come for; The Son of Man who is the friend of the sinner!
Invitation and Worship (36-38)
We jump straight into an illustrating encounter – Jesus is the friend of sinners he is not here for the religious. Straight away we meet the three most important characters: there is the Pharisee (who has invited Jesus), Jesus and the worshipping women who had a sinful past. The centre point of the narrative is Jesus and how two different people relate to him. One whom society today might look at and think has it all together and the other with a dodgy past. One whom we would be naturally drawn to and think that is who my church needs and the other we might hope would sit near the back and not make a fuss, but yet only one responds to Jesus and gives him what is due to him. In verse 36 we see Jesus invited to the house of a religious leader; Jesus enters the home and has probably just reclined at the table (meaning his feet would be facing outwards) and then straight away the sinful Women enters the house. One person has invited Jesus to their house not to worship him, but to get what they want, but the other breaks all social customs enters a house she has not right to enter, ignores the social standing of the religious leaders to meet Jesus, she performs an act that would have been improper, meaning she was a person of great courage and did what Simon should have: with tears of thankfulness and reverent awe because she has sensed something of God in Jesus she drops to her feet and washed and dries the most disgusting part of the body (in Jewish culture the feet are considered unclean) she does what Simon did not (44).
The Religious Judgement of Devotion and True Grace (39 -43)
“Without a heart transformed by the grace of Christ, we just continue to manage external and internal darkness.” – Matt Chandler
Picture the scene that has just happened you are Simon the host and have invited Jesus who is sort of an up and coming star into your house because and you are going to show him how great you are and your guests that he is nothing special – compared to you – then some sinful woman who is known down every street and on every corner in the town and not for good things walks into your house. Not only stealing the show but ignoring you as the host, then goes and falls at the feet of some stranger and lavishes upon him nothing that you think he deserves. If this happened to you, would you not have the same thoughts that we see in verse 39: ‘if only he knew the sinner that was washing his feet, if only he knew what I knew he would not let her touch him.’ In one verse we see what Simon thinks of both Jesus and the women. Simon contrasts that Jesus is not a prophet because he lets the women touch hi, and Simon judges the women by her past life, not by her current state. With Simon there is no Grace, but as we move on through the passage Jesus proves him wrong on both fronts: proving he is a prophet by knowing the thoughts within Simons’ head and explaining how anyone should be seen.
Jesus tells a parable that capture the essence of the moment. There are two people and they both owe money to a certain lender. Something unusual happens because the lender forgives their debt and absorbs the burden upon himself (Grace). Both receive something that they do not deserve, but the difference is one is forgiven a debt of 500 denarii (over 20 months’ salary) and the other 50. Jesus asks the question of Simon, who do you think will better appreciate the forgiveness of their debt? Simons reluctant response shows that he has got the point, he can barely pull the words out of his mouth: ‘I suppose the one who has been forgiven more.’ Jesus’s parable in a way features both the women and Simon and he offers no difference between them. The point is that both needed forgiveness, but because one felt the weight of their debt more their appreciation will be much more. Because they knew they would never be able to pay off the debt on their own – the moment they receive forgiveness they will better understand Grace. In this story, there are two people, both of whom know they need forgiveness, but one’s debt is smaller in some way and they might think that If they work hard they can pay it off with their own effort. The other debt is so much that no matter how much you tried and worked and saved to reduce it, it would always be there. This is a contrast between a religious view of Grace and real Grace – the small debt is the person who thinks they can earn their salvation and pay it off on their own, the big debt Is the sinner who knows no matter what they do it will not be enough: Jesus says who is going to better appreciate my Grace! Both people in the story are in need of Grace, but one knows it so much more so if they received it would be more responsive, more thankful. You can sense Simons frustration in his response, he knows what Jesus is getting at but struggles to get the words out of his mouth – “I suppose the one who had a greater debt.”
The proper Response to Jesus
“Grace isn’t just forgiveness, it is forgiveness fueled by surrender.” – Amy E. Spiegel
Simon answer then is greeted by Jesus with a demonstration of the lack of hospitality he had shown to Jesus, to the greater love the women had offered Jesus. Simon who should have washed and dried the feet of Jesus anointed his head with oil and Great with a Kiss did not – the women did. Even though this was not her house or her party she had loved Jesus with all she had to offer: She had no water to wash his feet, so she used her tears; she had no oil to anoint him, so she used perfume; She had not towel to dry his feet, so she used her hair. What excuses are you using not to serve and worship Jesus: ‘I need this, I don’t have that, I don’t have the opportunity’ because what Jesus shows us here is that there are no excuses, no valid response not to respond to the grace he has given us.
The women loved much, meaning she Loved Jesus because of who he is and loved him because of what he had done for her. Her love was not just the cause of her forgiveness but the result of it as well which is demonstrated over and over again by Jesus in the last few verse when Jesus says, her many sins are forgiven which inspires her love and contrasts it with the reality that those who had been forgiven of little will offer little love. This does not mean that Jesus thought Simon needed little forgiveness compared to the women, it means Simon thought he needed little forgiveness compared to the women, and thus his response to Jesus was all wrong. He wanted something from Jesus yet did not realise he could get everything he ever needed.
The whole purpose of the passage exists in the question we see asked towards the end: “Who is this man that even forgives sin?” Luke places this here to get the reader to stop and think, who is the Jesus. So today consider who is Jesus and what does he mean to you, and what excuses are you making not to serve him and worship him?
Furthermore, this passage calls us out by showing us the dual nature of humanity. The fact that we are sinful and in need of forgiveness that we cannot earn and the fact that we are prideful like Simon and in some way we all think we can earn grace, that we can work to have our debt forgiven. Every day we must know our need of grace so we can live out the effects of it like the Forgiven women, using all that we have and every opportunity to serve and worship Jesus. Let’s stop making excuses and start serving, so that others can come to know the goodness God’s Grace.
“Repentance was never yet produced in any man’s heart apart from the grace of God. As soon may you expect the leopard to regret the blood with which its fangs are moistened,—as soon might you expect the lion of the wood to abjure his cruel tyranny over the feeble beasts of the plain, as expect the sinner to make any confession, or offer any repentance that shall be accepted of God, unless grace shall first renew the heart.” – Charles Spurgeon