Jesus goes to Simon's House
Simon had invited Jesus to come and have a meal with him at his home and Jesus had readily accepted. Simon had never planned for this to be a private meal, just him and Jesus – there were a number of other invited guests who would join them at table – there was also going to be an uninvited gatecrasher – a woman of some renown and all for the wrong reasons!
But Simon was a Pharisee and according to Luke the Pharisees were implacably opposed to Jesus and critical of him. So we may well find it somewhat strange that a member of this particular group should want to invite Jesus to his home. Why did Simon want Jesus to come and share a meal with him? What were his motives? What did he hope to achieve?
Well perhaps Simon had been intrigued by the reports that he heard about this man Jesus. The common people were obviously impressed by him and eagerly spread the word that he was a great prophet (cf. 7:16). If this were the case then we could say that the invite came because Simon wanted to get to the bottom of it all and be able to decide for himself on this most important of matters: Who is Jesus?
There are however other elements of this episode that may push us to consider Simon in a somewhat less positive light. Ignoring the accepted social norms of the day he didn't treat Jesus particularly well. His whole demeanour appears less than enthusiastic and a critical spirit lies close beneath the surface. Did he really want to know more of the truth about Jesus or was he trying to find an excuse to accuse him and to go on rejecting him? (cf. 6:11).
I wonder which attitude you think dominated Simon's thinking as he invited Jesus to a meal. I wonder which attitude dominates you as you hear more about this wonderful man, Jesus, this morning. Are you prepared to follow where the evidence leads?
Well, by accepting his invitation Jesus showed in the clearest possible manner that he was prepared to reach out to all kinds of folk. He had already gained the nickname of being the "friend of sinners" having previously accepted an invite to eat in the home of the tax collector Levi (Lk.5:27-32) and now he showed that he was quite prepared to eat with those who considered themselves to be at the completely opposite end of the moral spectrum.
It doesn't seem to matter to Jesus what a person's background is or what their track record is like – he doesn't prejudge the issue according to some stereotype but he deals with individuals. That should encourage us all that we can have dealings with Jesus just as we are!
The Dinner-Party is Interrupted
A dinner party in the Middle East was a bit different from a meal in one of our homes. In the ME the guests took off their shoes and sandals and instead of sitting at table they lay down using the left arm as a support and the right hand to eat. As the guests reclined their feet were pointing away from the table. So far so good – everything was normal.
It was not unusual either when an important meal was served up for the doors to be left open so that others who had not been invited might also enter and benefit from the meal. These folk wouldn't recline at the same table as the invited guests but would sit to one side waiting for the left-overs.
Be that as it may, Simon wouldn't have expected that particular woman to come in and gatecrash this particular party! You see the Pharisees were the morally straight-laced and self-righteous folk of town and this woman had led a notoriously wicked life and everyone knew it! She was just the kind of woman that any self-respecting, self-righteous person like Simon would avoid like the plague.
The woman too knew what her reputation was and she knew that she was very likely to receive a frosty reception in that particular home. It must have taken some courage to go in – the atmosphere must have been electric as she approached those reclining at table.
Luke would have us focus on this as he writes:
v.37 "And behold..."
We are then told just what it was that this bad character did!
The woman was intent on seeing Jesus. She wanted to honour him and to thank him, she wanted to show how much she had come to love him and in doing so she didn't seem overly bothered by anybody else who was there.
Because all those at table were lying with their feet pointing outwards it was easy for her to come up close to Jesus and to stand by his feet. As she stood there she began to weep profusely.
Now there are two reasons for tears – one is physical pain but there is not the slightest hint here that this woman was ill or in any pain at all. So let's turn to the other cause – emotion. Tears are shed for joy or for sorrow and this woman had excellent reasons for both.
Now why was that?
Well, Jesus had been preaching and teaching about the forgiveness of sins (remember the poor had the good news preached to them!) and either she had been in the crowds that heard him or someone who had had shared his message with her. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit his words hit home – for years she'd lived a dissolute life but now she experienced sorrow for her sin as she surveyed the way in which she had lived her life. When a person comes under a deep conviction of sin deep sorrow and the tears that go with it are common features.
The message Jesus preached however was not just against sin but included the wonderful news that the sinner could be forgiven! And she responded to this message. She believed in this man and she experienced in her heart the pardon that he promised.
When the heavy burden and weight of sin is removed to be replaced by a deep sense of forgiveness and pardon joy comes flooding in and often accompanied with tears of joy.
And so this woman stands weeping at Jesus' feet – which emotion is dominant is unimportant for the two have gone hand in glove – she has found the One who had brought her a clear awareness of her need and who had met that need with a wonderful pardon. Small wonder her emotions are all over the place!
As the tears freely fall they wet Jesus' feet and quickly she takes what is nearest to hand to wipe his feet – she uses her hair. This is something truly remarkable because Jewish women would not take their hair down in public but she has to express her love and her concern and she ends up cleaning Jesus' unwashed feet. She covers his feet with kisses as a humble act of honour and pours over them a perfumed oil that she had specially brought with her for the task.
To the uninformed onlooker her actions would have looked eccentric and exaggerated – it was the language of loving gratitude and Jesus readily understood it that way as we'll see in a few moments. Simon, however, took a very view of the whole affair! Let's turn to think their contrasting his reactions.
Simon shows not the slightest concern for the woman – he doesn't ask why she is acting so strangely, why she is so emotional, or why she wanted to honour Jesus in the way she doing. No, as far as Simon is concerned he knows all he needs to know about this woman, she is a sinner, a lost cause.
And if Jesus was a real prophet, he thought to himself, he would realise what this woman was like and would steer well clear of her. You just didn't mix with her sort and he didn't think a good man would act any differently from him!
As the thoughts developed quickly in Simon's head his estimation of Jesus was falling lower and lower.
And Jesus knew it too!
It was now Jesus' turn to speak. So Simon doesn't think he can be a prophet does he? Well Jesus will show him that he does know all about this woman – her past is not hidden to him –he also knows what she has recently experienced and he knows that she is truly no longer the woman she had been.
But more than that, he knows all about Simon as well. He not only knows Simon's thoughts about the woman and what he thinks about Jesus he also knows how Simon's assesses his own life. All this will be revealed as Jesus says what he has to say.
Jesus tells Simon that he has something to say – he will begin with a short parable to illustrate the truths that he wants to teach but first he waits for Simon to give him the green light.
Simon rather brusquely gives him permission – his words chiming in with the general way in which he has rather impolitely treated Jesus. If the woman wanted to bestow all the honour she could on Jesus Simon had not even come close to treating Jesus as an honoured guest.
"Go on, say it Teacher."
And Jesus tells his little story.
It's all about a moneylender and two people who owe him money. One owes a bit but the other owes 10 times the amount. Neither of them could pay and the moneylender did an extraordinary thing – he let them both off!
Jesus then asks Simon for his opinion – truth is not vague or remote, it is practical and very close to home. Jesus wants to explain truths to Simon but he also wants Simon to respond himself to this truth.
Which will love the forgiving moneylender more?
Simon rather grudgingly answers: "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." v.43
You're right said Jesus who then immediately went on to show the relevance of his little story. He is about to make some very pointed and what will be for Simon some very painful and sobering application. Jesus is going to contrast the way in which the woman has behaved towards him and the way in which Simon has.
In his own estimation Simon was way ahead of the woman – he was a Pharisee while she was a mere sinner – but he is about to be confronted with a different take entirely. One of them loves Jesus and the other well...?
Firstly, normal polite custom meant that a host would provide water for his guests so that they could wash the grime and dirt off their feet and be refreshed as they sat to eat.
But Simon had thought so little of Jesus that he'd not bothered with this customary nicety. On the other hand the woman had washed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them clean with her hair.
It wasn't difficult to see which was evidence of genuine love, was it?
Secondly, a valued guest might expect to be greeted with a kiss that showed that he really was welcome.
Once again, Simon had ignored this – what did this say of his attitude towards this guest? The woman however had not acted in the same cold manner, instead she had covered Jesus' feet with kisses – a mark of how precious and honoured she considered him to be.
Thirdly, it was common practice to use some oil to anoint the head of a guest. It was a refreshment under the sun of the ME and bestowed honour upon the visitor. Simon hadn't bothered to do this either – not even with the cheapest of olive oils – but the woman hadn't used these either, no she had used expensive perfumed oil.
You can buy 30ml of Chanel N°5 at Boots for £230 but Simon wasn't even prepared to "waste" the much cheaper olive oil (80p for 100ml at Sainsbury's) on Jesus!
Why do you think Jesus drew Simon's attention to the much more generous way in which the woman welcomed Jesus than he did himself?
It was to point out the fact that this woman had received forgiveness for her sins which Jesus declares to have been very many!
Jesus knew about the past life of this woman but he knew too that she was no longer that old sinner she had received forgiveness and the evidence was there for all to see. She had done all she had out of a sense of immense gratitude and love. Jesus had been the means of her coming to her senses, of realising her state before God and then the source of her forgiveness as she believed in him and put her trust in him. She was clean and she found a way to express her thankfulness.
Our v.47 as translated in the church Bible is somewhat ambiguous and can appear to suggest that she was forgiven because she loved but that runs contrary to the story that Jesus has just told. In that story thankfulness, or love, flows from the fact of being graciously forgiven. Listen to how a couple of other translations more helpfully express this:
v.47 HCSB "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."
v.47 MSG "Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal."
Along with the explanation of the woman's behaviour Jesus points in the direction of a different analysis when it come to looking at Simon's behaviour.
I wonder did Simon see himself as in any need of forgiveness at all, or perhaps he thought he only needed to be forgiven for a very little. Was this the reason why his reactions towards Jesus were so muted, so cold and so lacking in love? Did his lack of love suggest he hadn't experienced much in the way of forgiveness? Did it perhaps suggest he hadn't actually experienced any at all?
And what of us this morning? What do we know of all of this? Have we been made aware in any measure of our need of forgiveness? Have we trusted in Jesus Christ whom God the Father sent to procure the salvation we so desperately need?
If you have experienced God's gracious forgiveness through Jesus Christ then you will understand in some measure at least this woman's desire to find a way to express her love and gratitude to Jesus. If you don't understand her in the slightest then maybe that is because you are yet to understand what it is like to experience forgiveness.
The Greatness of the Gospel
The woman in this scene had led an awful life and in her rebellion against God she had gone a long way but God in his mercy had stopped her, he brought her to her senses and granted her salvation. She has already begun to experience it and now Jesus encourages her still more with words of great comfort:
No, she hasn't been imagining it all; it's no figment of her imagination, it is true: her sins are forgiven! Jesus speaks to give her an assurance of what she has already begun to enjoy.
Have you in faith heard Jesus say these words to you as you have believed from the heart the truth as it is in Jesus?
Those who were at the same table as Jesus didn't like to hear what he said – they began questioning who this man was to say such things. But the woman wasn't about to argue. None of the folk there were interested in her as a person no-one other than Jesus that is. For the others she was classified, there was no hope for her according to them – better avoid her as nothing good will come of it. But Jesus didn't think like that at all. Yes, he knew her past, he knew her sins, but he knew the power of God to transform lives too. He knew that she was no longer the old person she had been for so long, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of sin, he knew her to be a new creation, as a forgiven person she was now part of the Kingdom of God.
The channel which had brought this salvation to her was her faith – she hadn't earned it, she knew that, she knew she'd had a great debt wiped clean from the slate, and my how thankful she was!
Jesus dismisses her, not as Simon and the other Pharisees would have done by brushing her aside with a derogatory wave of the hand, no, Jesus dismisses her not just with the blessings of forgiveness but he tells her to go in peace. Peace – not just the absence of hostility but the settled comfort of everything now being in its rightful place, her life has been fundamentally changed, she'll never be the same again, she is right with God and at peace with him.
And this is what the good news of Jesus Christ offers to us all. Give up any silly pretence you might have that you can somehow get by on your own without Jesus. Trust him for the forgiveness of your sins and for the new start he alone can bring into your life. And when you've experienced his grace just you make sure that you show your gratitude in acts of love!
May God be praised!