Luke Bible Study (Journey with Jesus)

Luke 7:36-50, The Fragrance of Gratefulness

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The Event (7:36-40)

Luke presents us a great story in the life of Jesus. One of the Pharisees invites Jesus to come to his house and eat with him. The Pharisees were a religious sect within Judaism in the first century. They demanded strict adherence to the Law of Moses by their oral interpretations of the Law. Jesus and the Pharisees clashed on many occasions over their interpretations and traditions concerning Moses’ Law. Therefore, the invitation by this Pharisee to eat in his home should be met with some skepticism. We will repeatedly read about the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in an effort to discredit his teaching and stop the crowds from following him. As we listen to the story we must ask ourselves if the Pharisee, whose name we will learn is Simon, is trying to learn the truth about Jesus or is he trying to find a reason not to follow Jesus. The other background we need for the story is the way people ate at the table. People did not eat at tables like we eat. Their tables were very low to the ground and the people laid on low couches. People would eat by laying on their side, head propped up in hand, feet tucked behind, leaving the right hand free to grab the food for eating. It was not unusual when having a special guest over to one’s house to eat that there would be an open door policy. Neighbors in the town could come and listen to the dinner conversation.

In the midst of this meal, a woman of the city, a sinner, learns that Jesus is at the Pharisee’s house. This woman is not just a sinner, but is a notorious sinner. Luke records her to be a sinner in verse 37. The Pharisee notes that she is a sinner in verse 39, and Jesus knew she was a sinner from verse 48. The point is that this woman is not some mild sinner. Everyone knows she is a sinner. It has lead many to believe that she is a very sexually immoral person such that everyone knows of her sexual escapades. Though the text does not tell us this point, it seems likely that this is why she known for her sins.

What she does is completely out of the ordinary. She is a notorious sinner and would not have been welcome in Simon’s house. However, when she learns that Jesus is eating at Simon’s house she brings an alabaster flask of perfume. She enters Simon’s house and stands behind Jesus at his feet. She is crying. But she is not just crying. She is not just shedding a tear or two. She is not misty eyed. She is bawling because she is wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears. Imagine how much crying it would take to wet the feet of someone you were standing behind. She then stoops down and wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair, kisses his feet, and anoints his feet with the perfume. This is an amazing act of love and an amazing act of humility. Ladies, can you imagine wiping your hair on the dirty feet of another? It is probably bad enough to think about doing this act today: taking off the shoes of a person and wiping those dirty feet with your hair. In those days people walked in sandals and the paths were dirt and mud. These are going to be very dirty feet. The woman does not care. It is not that she does not care about dirty feet. Something else has happened that moves her to find Jesus and do this act. We will learn what has happened shortly.

Before we can focus on what the woman is doing, the story turns to Simon the Pharisee. Rather than be emotionally moved by this woman and her love and gratefulness, he is turned off. He has distain for everything he sees. Simon does not care about this woman. He is not moved by the love this woman is showing Jesus. This is a notorious sinner, a despicably immoral woman. Listen to what he says 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 sinner.” To Simon this act completely discredits Jesus. Now he knows who Jesus is and he is certainly not sent from God. If Jesus were a prophet sent from God, he would not let this happen. He would know who this woman was and what kind of woman she was. Little does Simon know that Jesus does know who this woman is and sort of woman she is. Simon also does not know that Jesus is God and knows the thoughts of people. Knowing what is going on in Simon’s mind, Jesus decides to tell Simon a parable.


Have we lost our emotional response to Jesus? When is the last time that we were moved by our sins like this sinful woman? When is the last time the word of God cut us to the heart so deeply that we had an emotional response like this woman? When it the last time we let sin crush our soul? Do we mourn over our sins? Does the word of God stir our souls? When the scripture was read today, were you moved by the story or was the story boring and mundane? This meal that Jesus has attended contrasts the two attitudes we can have toward Jesus. The woman is expressive in her love for Jesus. The Pharisee is not moved at all. It is great for us to be emotional. We should never manipulate our emotions. We should not falsely generate joy or sadness about God. But neither should we conceal the joy we have in worship. We should not conceal our grief when the word of God cuts on our hearts. May we never get to a point that we are stoic toward Jesus and his teachings. We must not be stoic in worship. We should not fear saying Amen to appropriate points in the message. We should not fear joy or sadness to appropriate points in the Lord’s Supper, the weekly message, the reading of the scriptures, or prayer. Simon is put off by this woman but Jesus relishes the emotions that are coming from her heart of love and gratitude.

The Parable (7:41-50)

Jesus tells a parable about a moneylender who had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii and another owed 50 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage. Therefore, one person had about a two month debt and the other had about a 21 month debt. What is very important to the story is that neither person can repay the debt. Though one person has a significantly greater debt, we must recognize that neither can repay. Out of the graciousness of the moneylender, he cancels the debt. Neither can repay and both are forgiven the debt. Jesus then drops an important question: who will love him more? Both are forgiven and neither could repay but who will love the moneylender more. The answer is the one who has been forgiven more. The one with the greater debt will show the greater love.

Jesus is going to apply the parable to Simon and the woman. Jesus says, “Do you see this woman?” Simon’s internal response was probably something like, “Of course I am seeing this woman. That is the problem! You are not doing something about this woman touching you!” Jesus continues by describing how Simon had refused to give Jesus the customary greetings and hospitality of the day. At the beginning of this message we pointed out that we need to consider if Simon is actually seeking Jesus like Nicodemus, or if he is looking for a reason to discredit Jesus. The lack of hospitality confirms that Simon was not truly wanting to learn more about Jesus. He wanted a reason not to follow Jesus. Simon did nothing that was the custom of the day for a person to come into one’s house. He did not give water for Jesus to wash his own feet. The woman has wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Simon did not give a custom kiss on the cheek when Jesus entered. The woman has not stopped kissing Jesus’ feet. Simon did not offer any oil for Jesus to refresh his head. The woman anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume.

Verse 47 holds the key point. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47 HCSB) I changed translations to help show the point Jesus is making. The more literal translations can be misleading if we read the sentence wrong. Jesus is not saying that the woman’s sins were forgiven because she loved much. That is not the point of the parable. The point is that she loved much because her many sins were forgiven. This is also the point of the parable.


Luke is showing us two responses to Jesus based on two different attitudes about sin and grace. Why did the woman act the way she did? Why did she show so much courage to go into the house of a Pharisee, who would have no compassion for her, and go to Jesus? Why was her emotional response so great? She grasped the gravity and the multitude of her sins. She understood her sinful condition. She knew she was the one with the 21 month debt. She was the debtor with 500 days wages against her. That is why she is emotional. That is why she must find Jesus. That is why she is overflowing with tears. That is why she pours out a fragrant perfume on his feet. Why didn’t Simon act this way? He did not see his need for Jesus. He did not see himself as a great debtor.

We learn an important principle from this event. Our awareness of our spiritual condition is tied to our actions. Our affection is fueled by our faith and gratitude. If we love Jesus so little it is only because we have little idea how much we have been forgiven. When we fail to grasp the weight of our sins then we will try to “do the minimum.” When we fail to recognize how much we have been forgiven then we do not pour out our lives like fragrant perfume. We become unemotional, disconnected Sunday morning only pew sitters. We do not worship with emotion. We do not want to worship. We do not want to serve. We have the same attitude as Simon toward the lost. We have no interest in saving souls. Failing to understand how great our debt is and how much we have been forgiven causes us to be heartless minimalists, trying to do little for Jesus just as Simon did little for him. Do you love Jesus much or do you love Jesus little? Your actions reveal the answer to this question.

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