Scripture: One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said 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 a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36- 50 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, we skipped to the next story found only in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus raised to life a widow’s son in Nain. En route, followed by his disciples and a growing crowd of well-seekers, Jesus meets a funeral procession leaving the town gate. Luke tells us the deceased is the only son of a widow, and many residents were attending the ceremony. Jesus, as he often reacted to those grieving, feels compassion toward the widow and consoles her. Then he turns toward the bier and touches it, at which point the bearers halt, and he commands the young man to “arise.” Immediately, life infuses into the corpse, and the son sits up and speaks—at which point Jesus presents the son to his mother. And Luke provides an epilogue regarding the villagers’ response: gripped by fear, they glorify God, saying he has visited his people and that Jesus is a great prophet. And the word about Jesus spreads through and beyond Judea to the far extent of Israel.
Today’s reading also skips past a pericope covered in Matthew and Mark and takes us to Luke’s telling of a beautiful story of love, forgiveness, gratitude, and peace. The setting is a dinner party hosted by a Pharisee named Simon. Amid this formal occasion, a “woman of the city” (of ill repute) interlopes the dinner and kneels before Jesus, where she wipes his feet with her tears, kisses them, and anoints them with an ointment. Simon and his peers are shocked that a supposed prophet would not know her dubious character. Discerning their thoughts, Jesus respectfully asks Simon if he may say something to the guests.
With permission granted, Jesus tells a short parable about a moneylender and two of his debtors. Both borrowers approach their banker and ask him to cancel their debt. One owes fifty denarii, and the other tens times as much. The moneylender shows mercy to both and cancels their debts. Now comes the punchline: Which borrower will love him more? Simon correctly concludes the one who carried the more significant debt. Affirming Simon’s correct conclusion, Jesus turns toward the woman and candidly points out to Simon how this woman has shown genuine love and hospitality. So while her sins are many, her expressions of love (toward her Savior) ensure their forgiveness.
As expected, the dinner guests mutter to each other with indignation about who Jesus thinks he is—that he has the authority to forgive sins. Unconcerned, Jesus speaks directly to the woman, pronounces that her faith has saved her, and adds a shalom blessing: “Go in peace.”
Takeaway: Even though this story sounds similar to that of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha just before his crucifixion, which the three other gospellers chronicle (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8), its notable differences (earlier in Jesus ministry and hosted by a Pharisee named Simon), tell us that this was a separate incident. While the anointing involved Mary (who may have been Mary Magdalene), the possibility remains that this same Mary may have expressed her love and devotion similarly twice: first, after being delivered from demons early in Christ’s ministry (our story) and again after Jesus raised her brother from the dead. So if Mary is the same person, then we see beautiful glimpses of her spiritual growth as she later sits at the feet of Jesus and soaks up his teachings (Luke 10:38).
Nevertheless, here Jesus emphasizes the relationship between love and forgiveness. His succinct declaration is profound and applies to all aspects of our lives, whether we are believers or not. As a parent, no matter what my children or grandchildren may do, whether their offense impacts others or me, my love for them compels me to forgive them because I desire to remain in a relationship with them. And this is the heart of our heavenly Father and his Son revealed in our Gospel: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
Indeed, love spurred the Father and Son to provide a radical substitutionary sacrifice to bring us forgiveness of sins. For love compelled Christ to endure the cross, scorning its shame (Hebrews 12:2) so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). And love spurs gratitude. When we open our hearts to God’s love, who first loved us (1 John 4:19), his gift of forgiveness of sins (past, present, and future) should move us, like the “sinful woman,” to express our gratitude through worship of our Savior. Lastly, when we “sinful men and women” unreservedly worship Christ with loving hearts, we also come under the blessing of his Shabbat peace.
Incidentally, given Luke mentions that this woman was “a woman of the city,” she likely survived destitution through prostitution (as some theologians surmise). As such, she would have sacrificed her tool of the trade and her only means of survival (her ointment) to bless her beloved. Truly our Lord’s love spurs!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who laid it all out for us to bring forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with you, all of which flows from your and his love for us. We confess, though, that we sometimes take your costly and extravagant love for granted and even act ungrateful. So would you please help us to reflect on how much you, our Triune God, love and have forgiven us so that we might develop attitudes of gratitude that spur us to worship and make much of you to others under your cover of Shabbat peace? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling