Luke 7:36 – 8:3
So we’re at a dinner party for Jesus at the home of a very respectable man. It’s safe to assume that there were other people there, and probably prominent people because they’re coming to the home of a very respectable man. Now imagine that after they had seated themselves to eat, a strange woman comes in, a decidedly unrespectable woman, and places herself at Jesus’ feet. The respectable host of this party did not invite her and the other men in the room probably knew her by reputation only. You see she is a sinner. Notice it does not say, “prostitute,” it says “sinner,” so let’s stick with that. So here she is, this sinner, entering a respectable home to which she has not been invited and proceeds to do something completely out of place, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with ointment in-between kissing them.
Can you imagine the shock, the distaste, the outrage? Yet no one says anything, except Jesus. He senses what they must be thinking, it probably shows on their faces and in their body language, and he addresses the unspoken disdain by telling a story. It’s an easy story, sort of like the commercial that’s running right now for AT&T where a man in a suit is sitting with little kids and asks them “who thinks more is better than less?” Of course, they all raise their hands and when he asks them why, they can’t really articulate it, although it’s hilarious watching them try. The tag at the end is “It’s not complicated. More is better than less.”
It’s the same with Jesus’ question, who’s going to love the person that forgives their debt more, the one who owes a lot, or the one who owes a little? It’s easy, a no brainer. It’s kind of funny that Simon, the host of this party, prefaces the obvious answer with “I suppose.” It’s like “I suppose the sky is blue; I suppose the grass is green.” Jesus gives him his due for answering correctly but then goes on to compare his behavior with the woman’s, and it’s no competition, the woman wins hands down.
Now we might think that this is unique because she’s a woman and he’s a man, or because she’s a sinner and he’s respectable, but that’s not the real difference.
You see she’s been forgiven and he hasn’t. That’s what she’s doing on her knees, she’s showing love and adoration and gratitude for a gift she’s been given. It’s a gift that makes her right with the world—she’s been released from her debt, her sin, and that frees her to go into a future unburdened by the past.
Her future has changed and she has changed. She has gone from a woman with many sins to one who is now capable of and has shown great love. Maybe that doesn’t sound quite as significant as it is, so let me speak plainly; to receive and show great love is the whole ball of wax. It’s why we’re here. It’s what we’re meant to be doing. It’s the one thing that makes life rich and joyous and meaningful.
Jesus gave us two great commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love and love, that’s what it’s all about. This woman gets it right because she is capable of great love. And how did that happen? She experienced forgiveness.
We aren’t privy to what happened between her and Jesus before this moment to elicit this extravagant outpouring of love and gratitude but we know it had to do with being forgiven.
Now it might be tempting to think that she had some kind of advantage here. Afterall, she’s this notorious sinner with lots to forgive and Simon is this respectable guy, so if how much you love is linked with how much you’re forgiven, then how is that fair? But here’s the thing, Simon knew he was a respectable guy, so how do you think he would have taken the suggestion that he was a sinner as well; that he also needed to be forgiven? My best guess is that he’d be quite offended and not too open to the idea.
That’s the danger of being a respectable guy or maybe a “good Christian.” We can get lulled into thinking that we don’t need forgiveness. And when we don’t need forgiveness, we won’t want or look to be forgiven, and if we haven’t experienced the gift of forgiveness, we will never be capable of giving or receiving great love, and if we’ve never received or been capable of great love, then we’ve really missed the point and are to be pitied above all others.
Our God is love and the source of all loves. To live and participate in that love we need God’s forgiveness. More sins, less sins—that’s not the point. The issue is really how open are we to seeing all of who and what we are and how will we respond? Did I have the courage to face the things that cause me shame and make me feel bad? And if I did, what did I do next? Blindness and denial are always options but not ones that will ensure that my tombstone will say, “She loved greatly”—and certainly not ones that will bring me life and purpose.
I want to encourage us to go a little deeper in our understanding of forgiveness. Let go of the idea that needing to be forgiven is shameful or an indication of worthlessness. Rather see it as the prerequisite to being able to be the person you were created to be and to live the life God wants you to live.
Forgiveness is the way to being truly free because we are no longer defined or limited by the past and because it puts us in right relationship with God and each other. It is the fresh start that let’s us breathe and gives us hope for tomorrow.
Let’s be a people that are fearless in seeing ourselves, fearless in owning that we aren’t perfect,
and unshakable in our confidence that every time we ask for forgiveness we take one step closer to being able to take in God’s amazing love for us, and being able to show great love to each other.