- Luke records for us the story of a sinful woman anointing the feet of Jesus. This event is not recorded in any of the other gospel accounts. I would like for us to take a fresh look at what took place at Simon’s house when the sinful woman begins her act of love. Open your Bibles to Luke 7:36-50.
- Let us spend a minute talking about this sinful woman. She has done a courageous thing, and it is important that we recognize the difficulty of what she has done. She has gone into the house of an intolerant Pharisee to spend time with a rabbi that the multitudes have been following. She is not righteous. She is not someone with a good reputation. In fact, this woman is renown for her sinful. Simon the Pharisee knows who she is. When Simon sees what the sinful woman is doing to Jesus, Simon says to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” (Luke 7:39). This goes further to show the woman’s boldness. A typical Jew, knowing the kind of sinner she was, would believe that he had become unclean from being touched by her. This is why Simon utters these words to himself in his mind. No good practicing Jew would let this woman touch him, and certainly not a prophet of God. The Messiah would never allow this!
- From what we can tell, the sinful woman says nothing throughout the whole experience. She does not engage in a conversation with Jesus. She does not plead with Jesus, ask Jesus questions, or do anything that would be expected in this situation. She does not ask for forgiveness for what she has done. But Jesus is moved by what the woman is doing. Jesus says to the sinful woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus explains why he forgives her sins in verse 50, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” The woman has said nothing but her faith has saved her. What did she do that showed Jesus her faith? I think the answer is clear by looking at her actions. Her tears show her faith. Her tears speak volumes. Can anyone imagine crying the amount of tears that she is able to cry to the point that there is enough to wash someone’s feet? This is how struck with pain she is from her sins. She is very emotional because of the guilt of her sins and she is in the presence of Jesus showing her faith in this beautiful act.
- But she is not really the focal point of the story. After reading the story, it becomes clear that this is really a two-person story concerning Simon and the sinful woman. Luke does not seem to record this just so that we can be in awe of the woman. Nor does Luke seem to record this event so that we can scowl at Simon. The story stands here because it is a story of contrasts. Here are two people in the presence of Jesus. One is renown for his righteousness, a Pharisee but the other is known for her wickedness, a sinner. We are to read this story and look at the dramatic contrasts that are being exposed by Jesus as he dines with Simon and has his feet washed by the sinful woman.
Differences in Attitude
- The first point we need to address is the contrast in attitudes between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The sinful woman and Simon the Pharisee see Jesus in two completely different lights. Simon sees Jesus as another teacher of the day. Obviously Simon held Jesus in some sort of esteem to desire to have Jesus come into his home to eat. Perhaps Simon is trying to determine what this Jesus fellow is all about. Is he really a prophet? Is he really what the multitudes think he is? It seems that Simon has a curiosity about Jesus but is steered away from believing that Jesus is really a prophet of God when he allows the sinful woman to touch him. Simon sees himself as at least an equal with Jesus. Simon does not offer the common greetings and hospitality of the day to Jesus.
- But what a difference in attitude that the sinful woman has of Jesus! She does not see Jesus as just another teacher in Israel. She has come to him with a heavy heart, filled with a flood of tears because she knows he is the one who can help her. Jesus is not just another rabbi. Jesus is not simply a prophet of God. Jesus is the Savior. She sees herself in desperate need and has the boldness to go to Jesus, yet the humility to sit at his feet and wash his feet with her tears and her hair. She does not see Jesus as his equal. She knows where she belongs on the food chain. She knows that she is nothing. But she also knows that she needs Jesus. Regardless of the scorn that she likely knew this Pharisee would hold in his heart toward her, she was going to go into his house so that he could approach Jesus with a repentant, humble heart.
- This is our first contrast that defines where we stand with God. How do we view Jesus? How do we view ourselves in light of who Jesus is? Simon has a self-righteous attitude because he was not a habitual sinner. Jesus admits this in his story when he describes Simon as the debtor who owed 50 denarii. So Simon sees himself as better than this woman because she is full of sins. Many times we can have the same attitude about ourselves that Simon has toward the sinful woman. We see that we do not have as many sins on our resume as some other people, so we think we are better off. We are closer to God and we are better people than these others. Simon did not see that he still had a debt. Sometimes we come before God with this brazen attitude as if we do not need much of the blood of Jesus because our sins do not seem to be much. When is the last time we moved to tears because of our sins? We become so brazen with our sins and take for granted God’s grace to the extent that we are not moved to this kind of sorrow like this woman. We come to God expecting forgiveness. The woman came to Jesus expecting nothing. She did not ask with words, but asked through our sorrow, repentance, and humility. Rather than mouthing the words of asking for forgiveness, we need to be asking for God’s forgiveness by our actions. We need to be seeking forgiveness through our sorrow and repentance. When we forgive others, we often want to see sorrow and humility for what had been done. We do not want to see someone given a non-heartfelt “I am sorry.” We know they truly are not sorrowful because of their attitude and their behavior. Our behavior and our attitude needs to change toward sin and change toward God if we want to be forgiven.
Differences in Giving
- The second difference we are to see in this event is the difference in what these two people gave. There is a dramatic contrast between what Simon the Pharisee gave and what the sinful woman gave. In verse 44 Jesus explicitly draws this contrast for Simon to see. Simon the Pharisee did not offer a basin of water for Jesus to wash his own feet. This was the common act of hospitality in the first century. It was not expected that Simon would wash Jesus’ feet. But it was expected for a basin of water to be offered so Jesus could wash his own feet. It is like having someone to your home and not asking if there is something they would like to drink. To offer a drink of water is a common courtesy in our society. To not offer a basin of water for one’s feet is even more dramatic in the first century than not offering a glass of water in our society today. The woman, however, did not make a basin of water so that Jesus could wash his own feet. She used her tears to wash Jesus’ feet and used her hair to wipe his feet. She gave much, but he gave nothing.
- Simon the Pharisee did not kiss Jesus. We should not read these words and think that a kiss is something odd. It is in our society but not among first century Jews. A kiss on the cheek was an affectionate or a respectful form of greeting. We see this in the New Testament letters where Paul will speak of greeting one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16). By saying to greet one another will a kiss, Paul was saying to be affectionate, respectful, and courteous to one another. Simon did not engage in this respectful greeting. We could probably equate the kiss with a handshake. When someone comes over to our home, we usually greet the person with a shake of the hand. Jesus points out that Simon did not give him a common greeting kiss, but the sinful woman has not stopped kissing Jesus’ feet since he came in. The comparison is not that she gave him a kiss on the cheek, but that she is kissing his feet perpetually. The sinful woman gave much, but Simon gave nothing.
- In verse 46 Jesus points out that Simon the Pharisee did not anoint Jesus’ head with oil. The offering of oil for one’s head was considered a thoughtful act. Simon did not think to offer Jesus any of these common acts of hospitality. The sinful woman, however, has been anointing Jesus. But she has not been anointing his head. Nor has she been using common oil. She is anointing Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil. The sinful woman used costly oil on the feet of Jesus. Jesus wants Simon to see all that this woman is giving to Jesus. She is giving her humility, her tears, her hair, her costly oil, and her heart to Jesus. She gave much, but Simon gave nothing. This leads us into the next contrast in the story of the sinful woman and Simon the Pharisee.
Differences in Love
- Jesus points out the third difference between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The difference is found in the amount of love that is being expressed. Jesus is trying to help Simon see this difference in the story he tells in verses 41 and 42. Notice Jesus’ words, “So, which of them will love him more?” Jesus is leading Simon to come to a particular understanding by asking this question. Simon responds, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” Jesus tells Simon that he has judged correctly. Notice the conclusion Jesus draws in verse 47: “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.” Jesus is teaching something rather important to Simon: the degree of one’s outpouring of love comes from how much one sees himself forgiven. The sinful woman poured out a great amount of love to Jesus because she realized she had many sins that needed forgiveness. Simon gave no love to Jesus because he did not see that he had any need for forgiveness.
- But the teaching is deeper and more direct to Simon. William Hendriksen expresses the teaching of Jesus perfectly: “Simon regarded himself as righteous and forgiven (if he felt the need of any forgiveness, and looked upon the woman as a sinner, unforgiven. Jesus shows that it is Simon who by his lack of love proves that he has not been forgiven—this inference mercifully attenuated to ‘has been forgiven little’—while the woman can rejoice in the freedom from guilt she has received as a gift of God’s grace” (Luke; The New Testament Commentary; pg. 409). Simon shows that he is not forgiven because of his lack of love while the sinful woman shows she is forgiven because of her great acts of love. Notice that we would expect Jesus’ teaching to be in the reverse. We expect Jesus to say “she loved much, that is why she is forgiven much” and that Simon “loved little that is why he is forgiven little.” But that is not what Jesus is teaching. Jesus does not teach here that our forgiveness is based upon the amount of love we show. Rather, Jesus teaches that recognizing how much we need to be forgiven leads us to love much. If we do not love Jesus, then we are not seeing our need for Jesus and not seeing how badly we need the grace of Jesus.
Lessons for Life
- Our attitude matters to God. The differences in how the sinful woman saw Jesus and how Simon the Pharisee saw Jesus is dramatic and important. One saw himself in self-righteousness in not needing forgiveness. The other saw herself as a sinner in need of a Savior. Do we look at Jesus like Simon the Pharisee did? Do we see Jesus as just another obligation? Do we see Jesus as simply a curiosity? Or do we see Jesus for who he really is? Do we see him as the Savior of our souls? Do we see him as the Son of God? Do we see Jesus as the Lord of our lives? How we see Jesus will determine what we give to Jesus.
- Our giving matters to God. If I do not see Jesus as anything important, then I am not going to be willing to give much of my life. If I see Jesus as just another obligation, as something you do on Sunday morning, or as merely a pastime or a habit, then I will not give anything for Him. This is the fundamental problem with Simon the Pharisee. He did not give anything to Jesus. He did not give any of the common courtesies of the day. He just wanted Jesus in his house for a meal. Simon wanted nothing more required of him. How often we treat our service to God in the same way. We look at God and we are perfectly happy to have Jesus into our home or into our lives, but only for an hour or two. Don’t ask me to change. Don’t ask me to give anything up. Don’t ask me to make a sacrifice. Look at what the sinful woman was giving to Jesus.
She gave her time to Jesus. Jesus did not come and find her. She made an effort to seek out the Savior.
She gave up her comfort, going into the house of a cold, self-righteous Pharisee’s home. She would have to endure ridicule and scorn from all the other guests at this dinner.
She gave up her pride, by sitting behind Jesus and washing her feet with her tears and her hair.
She gave her heart, by wanting to merely be in the same room with Jesus.
What a beautiful picture of effort and love. How did she get to this point of making these sacrifices and being willing to give up so much?
- Our love matters to God. She was able to get to this point of making these great sacrifices because she recognize that she could be forgiven much. The reason that Simon the Pharisee did not care is because Simon did not see that he needed to be forgiven. He did not see his sin-stained hands. Thus, he was cold toward Jesus. We fall into the same boat. The reason we are not willing to sacrifice and the reason we are not willing to give up much for the Lord is because we do not see why we need to see. We see ourselves as righteous. We see ourselves as not needing much of the blood of Christ, if at all. We think we are doing just fine based upon our own deeds. We think God will accept us because we are not that bad. The problem is when we think in these terms, we are not forgiven at all. This is the thrust of Jesus’ words to Simon. Jesus is telling Simon his sins were not forgiven because his personal righteousness blinds him. The sinful woman was forgiven because she saw her need for forgiveness and came to Jesus. God is calling you today to come to Jesus. Do not be blinded by your own actions to think that you have some sort of righteousness that makes you more deserving of God’s love. Seek forgiveness and you will find it. Seek to enter heaven on your own and you have lost it.