The Mutual Love of Jesus and Sinners: Luke 7:36-50
Forty-five percent of the New Testament is biographical. There are four accounts of the Saviour’s life, works and teachings. For the sincere Christian this is not too repetitive. We cannot receive enough information about Jesus. We attend churches where attention is drawn to him. We are disappointed only when not enough has been taught about the Son of God.
A Cameo from the Life of Jesus
Luke describes for us a brilliant scene from Jesus’ life not recorded by the other evangelists:
There was a Pharisee whose name was Simon. He was a religious leader in his community. As a prominent man in his synagogue he was a rigid practitioner of religious ceremonies. He was very strict about following a set of moral rules. This man invited Jesus to dinner at his house.
Because of Jesus’ growing popularity as a teacher and a miracle worker in Israel, it was a sensation that he would be a guest of honour at Simon’s house in town. Perhaps the Pharisee was curious, wanting to see Jesus close up. He may have wanted to form an opinion of this man, or, more likely, he intended to confirm the opinion he already held concerning the much sought-after teacher.
In the opinion of Luke there was a third person very important to the current scene. He calls our attention to her by saying, ‘Behold! A woman of the city, who was a sinner’ (verse 37) was present. Look there! A notorious woman came into the dining hall. She was a sinner, known to all in the community for her immorality.
In a society without magazines, televisions or radios, news rapidly spread by word of mouth when a newsworthy person was to be a guest at a locally prominent home. It was considered appropriate for anyone in the town to slip into the great room or courtyard where the meal was served. The uninvited were neither to partake of the meal nor to participate in the discussion. Yet they could stand along the perimeter of the hall and listen to the fascinating discussion between the host and the guest of honour.
The woman who was well-known as a sinner stood directly behind Jesus. Jesus was the object of her attention. Jesus was the object of her humble service. She was single-minded. She would attend to Jesus’ comfort, his honour, his words. Can you recall your own early love for Jesus? Perhaps it was fumbling, but you hoped to get nearer to him. You wished to learn more about Jesus. Your thought was, ‘If only I could do something for him to show my love, my gratitude!’
Behold the Sinner-Woman’s Love for Jesus
She had an expensive gift for our Lord. An alabaster flask – fine translucent gypsum on which images were carved and in which rare ointments were kept. How intense and personal was this moment to her! ‘...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’ (verse 38). We need to remember that in that era guests would not have been sitting on chairs but reclining on couches with their heads toward the table and their feet away from (not under) it.
The sinner-woman noticed what no one else mentioned. It was because she watched Jesus so very closely. Her entire reason for being in the room was to see him and to give to him what she could. This is the essence of worship, is it not? The normal courtesies of entertainment had not been shown to Jesus. In a proper home the special guests were greeted with a kiss (much as we still note Middle-Eastern dignitaries greeting one another with a kiss on each cheek). Servants would remove guests’ sandals and wash their feet. Then oil would be poured on their heads from which fragrance would fill the hall. In the East much is made of ointments. Nonetheless, all this had been neglected by the host.
His discourtesy gave the woman the very opportunity to serve Jesus for which she longed. She kissed his feet instead of his cheek. She washed Jesus’ feet with tears of regret that he had been mistreated. She wiped the tears with her hair and anointed his feet. Her attention to Jesus held the attention of everyone. Certainly the ointment filled the room with a pungent odour that none could miss. Perhaps others were attentive to an exchange of ideas at the table. She, by way of contrast, was devoted to Jesus. She was willing to do the most humble tasks for his well-being. Of what consequence was it that others disapproved? The greatest of all spiritual gifts is love.
What Produces Undying Love for Jesus?
In the riveting but quiet display of the woman’s love for Jesus the Pharisee thought he had found the evidence of Jesus’ character for which he was searching. The host said nothing about the incident. In his mind, however, he formed an opinion: ‘If this man (Jesus) were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner’ (verse 39). His assumption was that if Jesus were a prophet he would be like his Pharisee host. He would not allow the sinful to touch him.
Jesus displayed his prophetic office by disclosing to all who were there both the secrets of Simon’s mind and the secrets of the sinner-woman’s mind. He did so by teaching what produces great love for the Messiah. Have you ever rebuked yourself for a heart which is too cold toward Jesus? Have you ever wondered how to deepen your love to him?
Jesus proposed a parable. It was one that would appeal to a Pharisee – the world of money-lending, debt and cleared accounts. But through this world of finance there came important lessons for sin and forgiveness. In his illustration one person borrowed fifty days’ wages; another borrowed ten times that. A factor common to both borrowers was that when the loan came due neither had any ability or resources with which to pay. This is certainly the case with all sinners. No sinner has the ability to pay his debts. It is for this reason that our Lord taught us to pray, ‘...forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matt 6:12, KJV/NKJV).
We can all imagine the stress and humiliation attached to an approaching deadline for paying a large debt coupled with the awareness that we are utterly unable to meet the obligation. In the parable a kind creditor cancelled both debts. Now, with this background of the parable having been stated, came the question as to which of the two debtors loved the creditor more. There was no hesitation in the Pharisee’s giving the obviously correct response: ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt’ (verse 43). Jesus replied at once, ‘You have judged rightly’ (verse 43).
Jesus had penetrated into the heart of the Pharisee. This man’s idea of religion had always been that the most love existed between God and those who through perfect obedience had no need of forgiveness of debt. Perhaps you too have imagined that complete obedience to Jesus would increase your love for him and his for you. Jesus pressed on the Pharisee host the truth behind the great love in the heart of the sinner-woman and the little love in the heart of the Pharisee. Having never realized either the enormity of his sins or his inability to pay the debts, he loved little.
This defective amount of love showed itself glaringly in his neglecting the courtesies due to Jesus. Contrastingly, the woman’s love was lavish and unceasing. Therefore she was forgiven much. The pardoning of great sins lights a flame of great love in the hearts of the forgiven.
Obviously the sinner-woman had had some acquaintance with Jesus before the dinner at the Pharisee’s house. Perhaps she had stood at the edge of a crowd listening to our Lord Jesus teaching. From listening to the Saviour’s voice it would not have taken much persuasion to convince her that she was the sinner, the breaker of God’s law. Having violated God’s law, she knew that she was deserving of the everlasting curses that would fall upon her. A day of God’s reckoning all the accounts of his moral creatures was coming. There was no way that she could repay her debts to the Almighty. ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23). Because of her wicked lifestyle she had long known her wretched condition as a great sinner.
But as she had heard familiar and frightening truths about herself from Jesus, she had found a note that would have been strange to her way of thinking. Not only are there wages for sin. There is also ‘a gift of God which is eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 6:2.3). There is a free lifting from sinners’ shoulders of the great weight of sin’s guilt. Jesus had come down from heaven to save God’s people from their sins, to pay their debts for them. ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy...’ (Titus 3:5). These themes gripped her heart and turned it with a special devotion to Jesus. She saw that in this free forgiveness of her debts lay her only hope.
The Constant Love of Jesus to Pardoned Sinners
This woman had a deep moral indebtedness to God for which she could not pay. Yet Jesus received her with kindness and reassurance. He was in no way cold or aloof in response to her first self-doubting approach to him. He knew all her sin but still allowed her to come close to him. Do you stand far off, suspicious that Jesus would not welcome someone who has sinned as deeply as you have? ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you’ (James 4:8). You too may soon offer service of love to Jesus.
He allowed her to touch him (she being sinful and he being perfectly holy). Her tears and her kisses did not embarrass him. As a Pharisee looked on disapprovingly Jesus received her faith gladly.
Jesus lovingly defended the sinner-woman before others when they were critical of her in their hearts (verses 44-47). She had been so far from true religion that members of the community could not believe in her new-found devotion to the famous rabbi, Jesus.
In similar fashion some young Christians hold back their love for Christ, imagining that it may be inappropriate. Their love for Jesus before an unbelieving world may discredit Jesus, they think. Yet he compared the unappreciative crowd with no liking for him to the woman and said that her love far surpassed theirs. This indicated that she who had been a deep debtor to God was forgiven much, for her love was demonstrable.
The Lord is not ashamed of his people. When a prodigal son, covered with the marks of sinful living, returned to his father, the father acknowledged him. With an arm round his son’s shoulders he said to everyone, ‘This (is) my son’ (Luke 15:23)! He owned him, as Jesus will own every recovered sinner.
Jesus’ love abounded to the sinner-woman as he spoke personally to her. His first words directly addressed to her were, ‘...he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven”’ (verse 48). She was not simply a public example for religious discussions with Pharisees. Could she ever again doubt the truth that Jesus spoke personally to her? In just such a manner Christ’s words in Scripture are for you. The Holy Spirit will make it plain that he is speaking of you, a repentant sinner forgiven for mountains of sin. The Saviour’s words were spoken to the woman with the intention of relieving her guilt, fear and shame. She did not need to wonder, ‘What does he think of me?’
Again Jesus spoke to the woman. ‘And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”’ (verse 50). What a benediction! She was saved by faith. She was to leave the dining hall in peace. Peace with God. Peace despite the memory of her sins, for Jesus had pardoned them all.
Oh, the deep disturbances of a life of sin! A conscience reminds sinners of a law which points fingers and condemns. Broken relationships with neighbours which cause conflicts. An angry countenance from a Holy God. Nothing but fear at the approach of death and judgment. She, on the other hand, had acceptance, forgiveness, peace.
With such kindness from Jesus to believing sinners, why would any hesitate to:
...arise and go to Jesus.
He will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of Christ the Saviour,
O, there are ten thousand charms!
The Enemies of Jesus Raise a Vital Question
The question was not spoken to Jesus but whispered among the Pharisee’s friends. With an attitude of condemnation of Jesus they asked one another, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins’ (verse 49)? They were indignant and sceptical. This was not how they thought true religion would be. For them, people worked their way into the Kingdom of God. Only the very best were admitted.
The question deserves an answer! ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’
It is Jesus, the Son of God, sent down from heaven!
It is Jesus, who had no sins in common with those who go to him to be forgiven.
It is Jesus, long promised by prophets, who would provide a true sacrifice for sin.
It is Jesus, who offered himself under the curse of the Law against the sins of others, to redeem them from the curse of the Law.
It is Jesus, whom God made to be sin for others so that they might become the righteousness of God in him.
No other religion in the world has a substitute for sinners to satisfy for them the divine justice properly due to their sins.
Who is this?
None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.
He is the way, the truth, the life. No man comes to the Father but by him!