FORGIVENESS AND LOVE
Luke 7:36-50, Key Verse: 7:47
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
In this passage there are two people who meet Jesus. We can see their lives are very much in contrast with one another. There is an outcast woman who was a public sinner who repents, and there is a high profile religious leader who needed Bible study. They are from different social classes, different reputations, different occupations, and completely different spiritual temperatures. We see the woman is on fire for God and repents of her sins, and the Pharisee is cold towards Jesus and is spiritually blind. Who do you want to be like? Lets study this passage and learn what we need to do to have lives of faith that are like the woman in this passage.
First, Repentance with Tears
This passage opens with one of the Pharisees inviting Jesus to have dinner with him. The Pharisees’ name was Simon. He was an upstanding person in the community, and as a Pharisee he was one of Israel’s teachers of the Law. The Pharisees were often at odds with Jesus. They persecuted him and his disciples following them around watching them, putting them under legalistic scrutiny. But unlike his peers, Simon extended an invitation to Jesus for dinner. We don’t know much about Simon the Pharisee, this is the only passage where he is mentioned in the whole Bible. He appears to have good motives, but maybe he was looking for a way to discredit Jesus while having dinner with him at the same time. Jesus willingly accepted the invitation of Simon and went to his house.
While there, he reclined at the table while servants waited on him. Out of nowhere a woman broke in and surprised everyone! Who was she and what did she want? Verse 37 says that she was a “sinful” woman. The biblical references for her lifestyle point to a life of unchastity, and she was most likely engaged in prostitution, which would categorize her as a public sinner. People could point at her and the grocery store and say, she is a sinner. Because of her reputation she must have been very unhappy. She could not have normal social relationships. The devil tormented her, and she felt hopeless and gave up on dreams of a normal life. Under normal circumstances she would have stayed far away from people like Simon the Pharisee where she felt condemned. But apparently these feelings of condemnation melted away by the hope that Jesus gave her. This was the same Jesus she heard about who healed the lame and the blind, and who forgave people like Matthew the tax collector who was a public sinner too.
We don’t even know how she got in to Simon’s house, but she did, maybe it was with a disguise we don’t know. We do know that she was determined. When there is no other hope, and nowhere to turn in this world and all our own plans have failed, there is always Jesus we can turn to. If we believe in him, Jesus can make a way for us and there is no barrier that can hinder us coming to him. We can go to Jesus just as we are, with our sins and our problems and struggles.
With her alabaster jar in hand she approached the Lord while he was eating at the table with Simon. She made no formal introduction, no apology, and no explanation, but put herself at Jesus’ feet right at that moment! Then what did she do? Look at verse 38, “As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” This woman placed herself at Jesus’ feet, the most humbling place. She cried tears of repentance for her sins. While they were tears of repentance they were also tears of gratefulness, she knew she was forgiven. At that moment she felt freedom she had not felt in a long time and she decided to leave her sinful life. She wanted to do something for her Savior, anything she could. She saw his feet had not been cleaned but no towel was available. So she used her hair to wipe his feet. Her actions were actions of love and repentance.
Many people want to follow God but they do not repent. In order to be healed of a problem, you must acknowledge the problem exists first. In this case people need to admit they are sinners before God to cured of sins. David wanted to follow God but he committed a terrible sin by committing adultery with the wife of his most loyal general. His sin tormented him day and night. He wanted to give 500 bulls as an act of repentance he thought that might help, but he knew it would not change his heart. Finally he came to God in genuine repentance, and said in Psalm 51:17 “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
To this woman, her alabaster jar of perfume was very valuable to her but she poured it out for Jesus out of a broken and contrite heart. Most men, like myself do not appreciate women’s perfume, so this part of the passage might get missed by some, since the passage is not about a man giving up his grown up toys or his man cave. However, I learned a lot about perfume when I visited Europe with one other person in our ministry, Monica Barry. We visited a famous perfume making facility in Nice, France. There they gave a tour and a presentation on how perfume is made and I was amazed. It is very complex, a lot of the extracts come from rare and unusual flowers, and they make hundreds of different variations and mixtures until they discover a blend that is unique and the most appealing. They were selling small bottles that cost hundreds of dollars each and a lot of women bought some. This woman did not have a small amount but a large amount of perfume in an alabaster jar, and she poured it all out on Jesus’ feet. It was her love language, her perfume was important to her, but now Jesus became most important. Truly, what thing on earth could be more important than a relationship with Jesus? There is one famous speaker who mentioned three things that we value that we can give to God; which are time, talent, and treasure. What time, talent, or treasure do you have that you can pour out for God?
Let’s look at how Jesus responded to this woman’s public affection for him. He could have calculated the cost to his reputation for associating with her. He already had many detractors criticizing him for associating public sinners. He could have simply clicked the “unfriend” button. But to Jesus this one person was very important. He saw her inner beauty—and cherished her as a daughter of God. This is how Jesus treats anyone who comes to him by faith, no matter how terrible their sins are. John 6:37 says “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Second, Those Who are Forgiven Much Love Much
In the last part we discussed Jesus’ reaction to the woman. Now, what was Simon’s reaction to her? He said in verse 39, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” Simon was too critical. Even though she repented, he still saw her as a sinner. His spiritual condition was very poor. Even worse he could not recognize Jesus for who he is, as the Messiah. He noticed in particular the physical act of the woman touching him thinking Jesus would become unclean. Jesus cannot be made unclean because he is the Messiah. Rather, he is the one who makes others clean when they are unclean.
Jesus saw Simon’s problem and wanted to help him. He was a good Bible teacher to Simon and did not react harshly. Rather he told Simon a very easy to understand, illustrative story. Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” Simon replied, “Tell me teacher.” Then Jesus told him the story of a certain moneylender in verses 41-42. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” This was a very easy multiple choice test question, with only A or B, a 50% probability to get the right answer. Simon could not cheat either, with his teacher sitting there. Simon answered the question, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” This was the correct answer.
After answering this “softball” question he might have thought he was ahead of the game. But Jesus wanted to open Simon’s eyes to the truth. In order to do so he contrasted the woman’s love for him with Simon’s. It was basic etiquette in middle eastern culture for a host to welcome guests by giving them water to wash their feet, greeting them with a kiss on the cheek, and putting scented oil on their head. But Simon neglected all of these. On the other hand, the woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and did not stop kissing them. Then she poured expensive perfume on his feet. Jesus concluded in verse 47 (key verse): “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” The woman was not forgiven because of her love. Her great love was her response to the forgiveness she had already received.
This amazing mystery, that we are forgiven first by God, and then enter into a love relationship is the essence of the gospel. God’s pardon is unconditional and he is generous and compassionate. He understands we cannot live under the burden of sin which is like a huge debt. When we have big financial debts, they weigh us down, and we are not happy. We feel like we are tying to catch up and we feel we can never quite do it. We overdraw our account 2 dollars and then get a 35 dollar overdraft fee. We miss credit card payments and get bad credit. We wind up tired and in need of a way out. Debt is like a 30 year mortgage that follows us to the grave. This is an accurate illustration of the burden of sin on our lives. So what did God do when he saw humanity in such a state of travail and despair? He cancelled all debts of sin, and forgave all types of sinners through Jesus’ death on the cross, Amen. Thank God!
This is why the woman with the alabaster jar was so thankful and why she made such an extravagant display of love toward Jesus. Her debt of sin was cancelled out. She could live a new life. Some say this woman was Mary Magdalene who was healed of seven demons, and later followed Jesus even to his death and burial. That is not certain, but what is certain is that meeting Jesus was a life changing moment and she received God’s grace and forgiveness. We also see this change and fervent love in the apostle Paul who once persecuted and killed Christians. He was a ringleader of rounding up Christians and putting them on trial, which often resulted in stoning them to death sometimes even in front of him. But after he repented he was so thankful that God restored him, he had a new identity, and said “I am the least of all the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1st Cor 15:9-10b). Paul demonstrated that God’s forgiveness of his old life as a former enemy of God, helped him become a diligent gospel worker. He was a leader for many churches around the entire Roman world and wrote his Epistles to encourage them, even encouraging the Church from prison. He also loved many of the Christian brothers and sisters and was very influential to people such as Timothy who became a church leader himself because of Paul’s love and guidance.
Those who do not see themselves as sinners, easily become cold. They have nothing to give God, because they do not have grace. Simon could not even give Jesus a proper welcome. So then, was Simon just out of luck and didn’t love much because of his job? No, the problem was he did not see himself as a sinner. Simon’s sins were probably not things like stealing, adultery, and idolatry, or other sins of commission. His were more likely sins of omission, like not helping others, not having compassion, and not being thankful to God. In fact, Simon’s failure to see the woman as a person in need of a second chance - shows he is a sinner. Recently in the news you may have heard that the US government is proposing to pay off the student loan debts of many students, wow that’s very generous of the government! Some large debts will be cancelled, and some small debts will be cancelled. I paid off all my student loans, so at first I felt that those who are going to get their debts cancelled are sinners. They don’t deserve it, they should work hard like me and make their own money and pay their own debts like I did. Based on this passage, this is a legalistic mentality. We should not get caught up comparing ourselves to others and thinking we are better. Especially, we should not think of our sins as small and someone else’s as greater. None of us deserve the grace of God, it is given to us as a free gift. Remembering the grace of God for our sins is the way to keep our spiritual thermometer up.
After defending the woman and helping Simon, Jesus blessed the woman. He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (48). This declaration echoed throughout heaven and earth. It was God’s declaration that this woman was forgiven by God and accepted as his child. It announced her righteousness by faith in Jesus alone. If anyone wanted to condemn her and criticize her, they would be arguing with the Almighty God who justified her. The other guests were upset, but Jesus did not mind. He blessed her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (49-50). This peace comes from the forgiveness of sins and no one can take it away. This peace guards our hearts and minds.
Let’s come to Jesus as we are, and ask him to forgive our sins and renew his grace in our hearts. Then love will overflow in our hearts for God and for others. Amen