Imagine the scene:
A dinner party with Jesus as a guest, religious leaders and Pharisees recline around the table, making polite conversation and trying to figure out why this teacher from Nazareth is causing such a stir.
Suddenly the atmosphere changes, a woman has entered the room, she kneels at Jesus feet weeping, wiping her tears from his feet with her hair, and pouring oil on them. The quiet chatter around the table becomes angry murmuring, as the woman is recognised.
She’s a prostitute, a sinner, what is she doing among them? She has no right to be in good society!
She kisses Jesus’ feet again and again, seemingly oblivious to their stares and censure.
A woman crying, social conventions crumbling. Perhaps this scene makes you want to stay away from the drama, we’re British after all! How will Jesus salvage his reputation?
But why is she weeping at Jesus’ feet in the first place, and why as the story progresses, does Jesus respond so warmly to this embarrassing demonstration?
In fact it almost seems like Jesus changes the subject before it can be broached. But Luke tells us that Jesus is responding to the inner thoughts of Simon his host – “What is Jesus thinking, letting this woman near him?!”
He tells Simon a story:
41 Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?
43 Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled. You have judged correctly, Jesus said.
Jesus is the money lender who cancels the debt of sin that we owe. The debt that results in God’s wrath and righteous judgement. It’s a debt we could never hope to repay!
44 Then he turned towards 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.
45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.
46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven— for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.
48 Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven.
We can respond in two ways:
Like Simon – He does not think that he owes God anything, or if he does, then he’s doing pretty well at paying the debt by his own means. He is not grateful for forgiveness and he does not love Jesus (perhaps he thinks that he’s doing Jesus a favour by inviting him round for a meal!)
Like the woman – She knows that her sins before God are huge, creating a debt she can never pay. Imagine the despair she must feel, unable to enter God’s presence or make things right. She knows that she needs Jesus’ forgiveness. Perhaps she has heard of Jesus’ words (a few chapters earlier in Luke 5:32) “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And maybe she is one of the many who have come in faith for the forgiveness of this man who speaks with God’s authority.
She is full of joy and can’t stop weeping with gratitude! She knows she hasn’t earned it, it’s a gift, but she responds to it with love.
Simon is just as spiritually bankrupt as the woman, only he does not realize it.
Time to look in the mirror!
How do we relate to Jesus? As equals? A wise teacher? A friend to ask the occasional bit of advice from?
Maybe we feel a bit distant, and unable to relate to the display of emotion from this nameless woman?
“He who has been forgiven little loves little.”
If you’ve never been heartbroken over your sin – however you express it personally, shouldn’t you be? I think there should be times when it hits us afresh – how filthy our rags are, how pure and perfect Jesus grace for sinners. It should break down our casual attitude towards Christ.
But hear me carefully, because this is not another thing to add to your spiritual to do list, or an item to write on the list of ways you’ve failed Christ today! (Number 201: Failed to respond adequately to God’s forgiveness)
For this woman what makes her weep is not so much her failure, but her gratitude. She is overcome with joy at Jesus’ offer of forgiveness in the face of her flagrant and obvious sin. That is why she doesn’t care that she looks a mess, or that she is surrounded by scornful VIP’s, or that she will be the talk of the town for her behaviour.
As Christians we remind ourselves not just that our debt has been cancelled, but that Christ our generous Lord has credited his own righteousness to our account!
It should feel too good to be true!
Join me in praying that God’s spirit would be at work to make us people who love much, because we have been forgiven much.