“I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. [The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”Paul, II Corinthians 12:5, 9, 10
[Paul says in Ephesians] ‘God made us alive.’ We will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for us if we don’t see his love in relation to our former deadness. [Paul says] that the greatness of his love is shown precisely in this: that it is what makes us alive when we were dead. ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.’ Because of his great love for us, he made us alive. If we don’t know that we were dead, we will not know the fullness of the love of God.
– John Piper, Finally Alive
36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and 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.
39When 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.”
40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44Then 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. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Luke 7:36-50
We already know that Jesus dines with “sinners and tax collectors.” Here we see him reclining at the table of one of the self-righteous Pharisees, named Simon. Jesus knows that the Pharisees are always trying to catch him doing something they consider blasphemous or in violation of self-justifying rules, yet he goes anyway. We see that Jesus is comfortable partaking in refreshments and soundtracks at both ends of the spectrum – Bud and rock and roll with the rebels, Evian and Mozart with the pillars of the synagogue – no filters on dining partners here. Jesus is willing to engage with anyone and approaches such encounters with confidence and purpose . . . and compassion for even the self-righteous, as we see him gently open Simon’s eyes in this encounter.
The sinful woman (likely a prostitute or adulterer based on the passage’s description) comes into Simon’s house and stands behind Jesus, weeping; she kneels and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair; she then kisses Jesus’ feet and pours her expensive perfume on his feet. What we see is an act of beautiful humility rooted in palpable brokenness. The woman does not see herself as worthy of being before Christ – she stands behind him. Meanwhile, Simon sits before him, presumably sipping his Evian and registering his disgust.
The woman offers the best she has to serve Jesus in the lowliest way possible, focusing all her attention on his feet, likely dirty and dusty from the day. While the woman’s humility is brilliantly vivid, she also exhibits great faith. She believes that Christ has the power to forgive her and, despite her “many sins,” will do so. She hears that Jesus will be at Simon’s house that evening and, uninvited, shows up. She is a risk taker.
We see yet again Jesus’ immediate response when approached in humility and bold faith. At first glance, this may appear a paradoxical combination, but, in practice, represents the two attributes that Jesus cannot but help respond to. God’s very heart is expressed here.
Predictably, Simon thinks to himself that Jesus would not be allowing this woman to even come near him, and certainly not touch him, if he “knew who she was.” Jesus of course knows who the woman is – a repentant, humble, broken sinner coming to him in faith, believing in his ability to forgive. He also knows who she was – a great [five hundred denarii] sinner. In his great mercy, he sees her as she is (broken, humble, repentant) and will be (forgiven much and therefore loving much), not as she was.
As we come to him in repentance, desperate for his grace, Jesus views us the same way – not as we were, but as we will be under his grace as our hearts and minds are reshaped by the Spirit. Praise be to God! Jesus asks us to see those around us in the same merciful way – as they are and will be, not what they were. Jesus previously said, “Learn what it means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Here is an object lesson.
Jesus also sees who Simon is: someone who is outwardly “clean,” upstanding, respected, but broken inside, just as the woman. The woman’s brokenness is fully evident in her actions. She doesn’t care about looking foolish or admitting her great sin; she desperately craves Jesus’ forgiveness. Simon’s brokenness, on the other hand, is concealed by the outer trappings he has built up. He likely believes in his own heart that he is more righteous and deserving than the sinful woman, tax collectors, gluttons, drunkards and other societal losers Jesus hung out with.
The elegant logic of Jesus’ analogy really illustrates his point powerfully to Simon. Note that he resists the likely temptation to say something like, “Simon, you blind fool . . . don’t you get it? Your self-righteous pride is as sinful as prostitution. Stop deluding yourself!“ No, Jesus has mercy on Simon. There is hope and margin for the self-righteous among us to learn from Jesus (thank you, Lord).
Jesus tells the story about the two men that owed money, one ten times more than the other. Which one will love the moneylender that forgave his debt more? Simon answers correctly. I suspect he must know he is getting teed up by Jesus by his sheepish answer: “I suppose . . . “ Jesus then goes on to draw the parallel of Simon – the one who believes that the sum of his sin is perhaps 10 percent that of this perceived atrocious wreck of a woman in his house – and the woman – the one that understands her sin to be 10 times that of Simon’s. (That is the math of 50/500 denarii from the two perspectives.)
Simon gave Jesus not even water to wash his feet; the woman uses her tears and hair. Simon did not greet Jesus with a kiss; the woman has “not stopped kissing my feet.” Simon did not put oil on Jesus’ head; the woman pours perfume on his feet. Jesus’ punchline: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” I hope Simon gets the point!
I hope we get the point. In order to love Jesus and those around us more fully, we must truly appreciate the depth of our own brokenness and sin and desperate need for Jesus’ forgiveness. As the sinful woman teaches us, we must be humbled by God’s graciousness in forgiving us completely of our utter corruption, represented by both our external actions and the condition of our hearts. Our focus should be finding humility in our own brokenness and not condemning the brokenness of those around us, as was the case with Simon. Once we appreciate how much we have been forgiven and the magnitude of God’s grace in Christ, we love much as we ourselves forgive much. The deeper our awareness of our sin, the more we begin to comprehend the dimensions of God’s inexhaustible mercy – leading to the life of love Paul commends us to in Ephesians. Jesus is clearly suggesting a correlative and proportional interplay between the increasing depth of our sin-awareness, our expanding understanding and gratitude for his grace and the growing amount of love we express in our lives.
Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Faith in Jesus is what saves us, not our degree of worthiness or track record of sin or righteousness. We may take this idea for granted based on having the benefit of the New Testament available to us (as Simon did not), but Jesus’ words here are the “new wineskins” of the kingdom of God he shockingly proclaims. His message stood in shattering contrast to the “my own righteousness is what saves me” resolute posture of the religious leaders of the day.
The idea of Jesus’ limitless grace for those placing their faith in him remains shocking today if we can begin to have even the slightest comprehension of it. There is no sin, nor combination of sin, in either depth or volume that exceeds grace’s capacity. It is offered freely to all those who will humble themselves, admit their brokenness and reach to Jesus in faith, as is monumentally modeled today by our beautiful sister.
That is ridiculously good news, literally the best news anyone could ever hear . . . good news that Jesus asks us to proclaim, as he did, through word and action to those around us. Let us do so joyfully today.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed in their duplicity. Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”Proverbs 11:2-4
“To you, O Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy. Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”Psalm 30:8, 10-13