The Following is a Modified Version of my sermon from Luke 7:36-50 preached at Forest Hills Baptist Church on May 19, 2013. You can access the sermon audio here.
Imagine being invited to a formal dinner and there is a special guest of honor, an up incoming teacher everyone is talking about. You are invited. You make it on the exclusive list. It is at a huge house of a respected man in your community.
You arrive at the formal dinner, and it is going great. You still can't believe you were even invited. The discusions begin to break out with this respected teacher and you are just soaking it all in. Then there is a ring at the door. The host with a surprised look on his face gets up and answers.
The all of the sudden, in barges a young woman dressed in a low cut blouse and a mini skirt. She looks like she is a prostitute. She barges in and runs over to the guest of honor while he is eating and takes of her top and then takes expensive massage oil and begins caressing the guest and massaging his neck.
You are sitting their watching this whole scene unfold and everyone at the dinner is giving each other strange looks. The guest of honor though doesn't stop this woman. He is allowing this to happen! Then you notice something really strange. The woman is weeping loudly as she messages the guests neck. She is crying her eyes out in sorrow.
This is a bizarre scene, socially taboo, provocative, erotic, and scandalous. What would you do in this situation? What would you think about the teacher who just let the woman massage his neck? What would you think about the woman? How would you expect this up incoming teacher to respond?
Well this sort of scene is almost exactly what we see happen in Luke 7:36-50. Read through the passage and ask yourself a question. Who are you in this passage? Are you like this sinful woman or are you like Simon the Pharisee?
Based off of Luke's description of this scene, this dinner seems to be based on a Greek Synopsium. The way these dinners would work, is that a respected, wise host would invite several of the socially elite to have dinner with an important guest. At this dinner party, they would recline along the table, laying down on their sides to eat. This formal affair would involve a series of debate over crucial issues, centering around the special dinner guest.
This seems to be the type of dinner recorded in this passage. Simon, a Pharisee and respected religious leader, invites the up incoming young Rabi, Jesus. Jesus accepts the invitation and they are reclining at the table discussing and debating a variety of theological issues. This was a formal, socially elite type of an event.
A Sinful Woman Interrupts
The way homes were constructed back then is that in rich people's homes there was a semi-public area of the house. There was a section for the public to stand on the street and look in and observe the conversation and dialogue. With all the commotion going on about Jesus, I'm sure a lot of people were looking and listening intently about what was being discussed at this dinner.
Knowing this, it is easy to see how this sinful woman enters into the scene. She was probably standing in the public area and then breaks social protocol by interrupting the dinner. All we are told about this woman is that she was a woman of the city, who was a sinner. This probably means that she was known for being a prostitute or at least for being sexually promiscuous. This woman sneaks up behind Jesus who is reclining at the table and began washing his feet with her tears. She then takes an expensive ointment and anoints Jesus' feet with it.
What this woman was doing was socially taboo. In fact the act she is performing could be considered an erotic one. Woman in the 1st century did not take down their hair. They kept it covered. The only time you took down your hair as a woman is when you were in the bedroom. This woman taking down her hair in public is the social equivalent of going topless. Then she begins to wash Jesus' feed with her hair which is a very sensual act. Then she impulsively takes this expensive ointment and anoints Jesus' feet with it. The strangest thing is that this woman is weeping, crying enough tears to wet Jesus' feet with them.
The Heart of the Sinful Woman
What can be said of this woman? She did not know much about Jesus, but she knew that he was a friend of sinners. What desperation had led this woman to do such an act of love and sacrifice that would expose her to so much ridicule? She had hit rock bottom and had no where else to turn. She throws herself at the feet of this rabi showing love in the only way she knew how, through sensuality. This sinful woman is broken. She knows she is a sinner. She knows what she has done with men behind close doors. Her memories haunted her. Her sin always before her. At the end of her rope she had no one else to go to, nothing left to live for, so she throws herself at the only man she thinks she can trust. In her desperation, her shame, her guilt, her hopelessness she falls at the feet of Jesus.
Who are you? Are you this woman? Are you enslaved to the memories of your past sin? Do they haunt you when you lay your head down on the pillow at night? Do you feel used, abused, and totally abandon? Is there no one who loves you and no one you can go to? Are you in surrounded in the black darkness of despair? If so, you can connect with this woman. She is just like you and she throws herself at Jesus.
Oh the risk this woman took! Breaking all social etiquette she threw herself on a rabi she only has heard of not knowing how he would react! Would Jesus rebuke her? Would he threaten her? Would he refuse her love?
Jesus Doesn't Stop the Woman
This woman's risky action of love is not the only surprising thing in this story. Jesus' response is equally shocking and scandalous. Jesus doesn't stop the woman, but allows her to continue groveling and weeping at his feet. Rather than kicking the woman off, rejecting her, Jesus allows her to continue to show him deeply sacrificial love.
This is what really throws off the dinner party guests. They can understand a prostitute barging in and doing this. She is a sinner, she doesn't know any better so they think. But Jesus allowing this to happen? That is unthinkable! How could a respected religious leader and a man who claims to be a prophet allow such a thing to happen? This leads us to see Simon, the dinner's hosts reactions to this event.
We are told in verse 39 that Simon was thinking 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." Not only is Simon disgusted by this woman who is a sinner, he is disgusted that Jesus would allow this. Simon then begins to question that Jesus is even a prophet. Men of God don't allow this sort of thing to happen to them, so Simon thinks. However Jesus is not just a man of God, he is God himself.
Jesus, reading Simon's mind (cause Jesus can do that, he is God), says, "Simon, I've got something to say to you". Simon says, "Say it teacher". Jesus then begins to respond with a parable of two debtors. Two men owe money. One owed 500 denari the other 50. The lender cancels the debt of both men. Jesus looks to Simon and asks him, "Which of these two men loved him more". Simon answers, "I suppose the one who was canceled the larger debt"
Simon answers Jesus' question correctly. The one that was canceled the larger debt would love the lender more. Then rather than rebuking this woman, Jesus rebukes Simon.
“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.” (Luke 7:44–46, ESV)
This sinful woman has shown more hospitality and love to Jesus than Simon did. Here Jesus begins to reveal to Simon his hardened heart. Simon didn't really love Jesus, he was just using Jesus to increase his own reputation. Simon is far more concerned with his own prestige and reputation. Simon, the self-righteous Pharisee does not know what it means to love God, and Jesus helps give us the answer to why. Jesus sums up his point to Simon in verse 47:
"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little".
Why does Simon not show extravagant love like this woman does? Why does this woman love Jesus' so much more than simon does? It is because Simon does not see himself as much of a sinner. As a Pharisee he isn't like this woman, he hadn't whored himself out like this woman did. He was better than she was. He had kept the Law, he had been obedient to God. Simon does not have a need for a savior and doesn't need forgiveness.
The Heart of Simon
Oh how wretched is the heart of a Pharisee! For they have blinded themselves to the depths of their own sin. Thinking they can earn God's favor through their own obedience all the while neglecting their very own hearts. They seem close to God outwardly but in reality their hearts are desperately wicked. Like white washed tombs clean and spotless on the outside, they are rotting and decaying on the inside. Hypocrites is what they are! Self-Righteous in all their doings, obeying not out of love but in order to boost their own egos! They think they are sinless all the while ignoring one of the most condemnable of sins, the poison and detestableness of Pride! Is Simon a little sinner? By no means! He is just as much of a sinner as this sinful woman, yet his own self-righteousness blinds him to the actual state of his soul.
The Heart of a Pharisee
Again I ask, who are you? Are you Simon? I suggest most of us, including myself are much more like Simon. Many of us have grown up in the church attending Sunday School going to church every time the doors were open. Unfortunately for many of us our devotion has not been to Christ but to religious tradition. We struggle with feeling morally superior to everyone else who is not like us. Unfortunately for many of us our obedience has been only to fuel our own self-righteousness. Rather than becoming aware of our need for Christ, we think we are so good we don't need Jesus. Who are the Pharisees in our day? Unfortunately they are found in churches scattered across our nation. Many of us, including myself, have a pharisaical heart.
We have become so captivated with tradition, ritual, and habit that we have ignored the world around us. When we come across sinners how do we respond? We look down in judgement to the homosexual condemning them in hate. We look down in judgement on the sexually immoral. We look down on those who spend their nights drinking away their cares at the bars. We despise the poor and self-righteously walk by the homeless. So who are you? Do you have the heart of a Pharisee?
Who is Jesus?
The question remains, who is Jesus? In v. 48 Jesus tells the sinful woman, your sins are forgiven". Then the debate really begins to break out around the dinner table. "Who is this who even forgives sins?" You see Jesus is no ordinary Prophet. He is no ordinary teacher. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the one true God who has the authority and power to look at this woman and forgive her of her sins. What this woman longed for more than anything was forgiveness and acceptance. Jesus gives it to her. Jesus tells us that what has saved this woman is her faith. It is her faith that has saved her. Who has she placed her faith in? Well she placed her faith in Jesus.
Just as this woman was forgiven of her sins by trusting in Jesus so you and I are forgiven by placing our trust in Jesus. It is Jesus who came to earth on a mission, to save sinners. Jesus would go to the cross, and he would be crucified paying the punishment due our sin. At the cross Jesus paid not only for the sins of the sinful woman but also for the sins of the Pharisee. Jesus has done that for us! He has laid down his life for you and for me, and all we must do is respond like this woman. We must fall at the feet of Jesus putting our faith and trust in him as the savior of our souls.
Who is this Jesus? He is the savior of sinners. He alone has the power to forgive sins!
So Who are You?
Are you like simon the self-righteous Pharisee? If so do not think of yourself as a little sinner, but a great sinner. Repent of your self-righteousness and put all your hope on Jesus. Become a fool like this sinful woman and throw yourself at his feet in desperation.
Are you like the sinful woman? Have you reached the end of your rope. You do not know what else to try. Your plagued by guilt and you are all alone in this world. Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus. Jesus loves you and he died on the cross so that he could forgive you of your sin. Come and place your trust in Jesus.