Today I am going to talk a bit about The Life of Jesus. Let’s read a simple but emotional story that is found only in Luke 7:36-50
This is a good Valentines story It’s got all the qualities of a great love story: passion, overcoming obstacles, standing up for the other, other people trying to interfere, forgiveness. It’s a great tale about great love, one for another. I like this letter I am about to read….it is not at all like our Bible passage today, it is a letter that a young man wrote to his girlfriend. It said, “Sweetheart, if this world was as hot as the Sahara desert, I would crawl on my knees through the burning sand to come to you. If the world would be like the Atlantic Ocean, I would swim through shark infested waters to come to you. I would fight the most fiercest dragon to be by your side. I will see you on Thursday if it does not rain.”Ah, the stuff that love is made of. Well, let’s pick this story apart. Now, I don’t want to over-analyze it, because at its core it is a love story. But there are some elements I’d like to look at. So Jesus was invited out for lunch. A Pharisee named Simon asked if Jesus would like to eat at his place, and Jesus accepted. Now, it seems that news got out that Jesus would be eating at Simon’s house, and a sinful woman waited for Jesus to show up there.
There are similar stories in the other Gospels describing when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus with oil. Catholic theology says this is the same story, at least the same woman. While the stories are similar, they have several notable differences too, enough to say that it’s nor fair to assume this sinful woman is Mary Magdalene. The text says “a certain woman”, apparently wanting not to name her, so we won’t either.So at Simon’s house the woman cried on Jesus’ feet, wiped them off with her own hair, kissed them and poured expensive perfume on them. This all sounds very odd today but back then and there, since everyone wore sandals, cleaning someone else’s feet was a sign of respect and honor. It was customary.
But Simon did not react well to it all. In fact, he used it as proof that Jesus was not who people said he was: a prophet. He said to himself, “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.”
And Jesus, actually proving He was a prophet, responded to Simon’s unspoken thoughts. Jesus told a story of 2 people who owed their creditor some money. One owed a small amount, and the other owed 10 times as much. The creditor forgave them both of their debts. And Jesus asked who would be more thankful for it. Simon said that the one who owed more and was forgiven of more would love more. Which was exactly Jesus’ point. Jesus then connected it to Simon and the sinful woman and said that the woman showed Jesus much more love. He declared that her sins were forgiven and sent her off, much to the dismay of the other guests, likely Pharisees, who were annoyed at the whole thing.
Well, let’s look at the 2 people in the story besides Jesus. First, there was Simon the Pharisee. He had invited Jesus to his home but had not performed the customary foot washing. Even though Simon was the host, he really hadn’t treated his guest with much courtesy. Now, why would that be?Well, it seems that maybe he was just trying to find an excuse to dismiss Jesus. Maybe he was looking for some reason that he did not have to listen to what Jesus was saying. Still the same today. If a person can find hypocrites, then they think that just throw out what the hypocrite is saying.
Simon was thinking something like this. OK – If Jesus were a prophet, he would know people’s character. And if Jesus knew this woman was a sinner, He would have nothing to do with her. Since Jesus has accepted this woman, He does not know her character. And since Jesus does not know this woman is a sinner, He cannot be a prophet. Therefore, since Jesus is not a prophet, I can reject Him. I can reject His message, and I can reject His ministry. Case closed.People do that today. They say, “Well, obviously, Jesus would not go to dances…if he was a Baptist…. or Jesus would not go to the liquor store or Jesus would not be out and around where sinners are or Jesus would not vote Liberal or Jesus would not vote at all or Jesus would hate gays or Jesus would be against gay marriage or Jesus would leave liberal churches or…” Well, maybe some of that is true and maybe some of it isn’t, but the point is, we assume we know what Jesus would do. We quote scriptures backing our positions up. Well, I must say, Simon backed himself up with scriptures too. He would have been able to quote the passages that say that holy people should stay away from unholy things.
And what happens is that we make Jesus against the same things we’re against. We make Him in our own images. We call it looking more and more like Him, and really we make Him more and more like us.Now, there was nothing wrong with Simon’s logic, but it was based on a faulty premise. He assumed that holiness was primarily a matter of separation. Holiness was achieved by keeping yourself separate from sin and from sinners. According to this view, Jesus would have to shun this sinful woman in order to remain holy. Simon concluded that either (1) Jesus didn’t know this woman’s character, or (2) that whether or not He knew about her sinfulness, He was physically contaminated by her, and thus could not be holy.
Well, like all bad theology, this view emphasizes one aspect of truth while ignoring others. This view emphasizes God’s holiness, and His high standards of what is good and right, but minimizes His compassion, and His love and concern for people, not just what they do to mess up their lives.In fact, Jesus answers both views here. He says that 2 people owe the creditor. One is obviously the woman, and she owes more. But Simon is the other. He probably thought he didn’t owe anything. He probably thought he was doing pretty good anyway. He didn’t need forgiveness. He didn’t need to love this man. He and God were buddy-buddy. This man was clearly wrong, and he was clearly right.
But the truth is, he did owe something. He was not perfect, though his life was cleaner than the woman’s. He did not realize that he was a debtor as well. And the irony of the whole thing is this: the one with the more sins is the one who gets forgiveness. The woman was forgiven, but he was not. You see, the woman may have been sinful but she was still seeking the Lord. She probably wasn’t a faithful Jew. She probably didn’t attend synagogue weekly. But she loved the Lord more than the not-so-sinful person did. Her actions were sinful but her heart was loving. Her actions and her heart did not line up, but it seems that’s OK with Jesus, because He saw her heart. The sinful one was more in touch with Jesus than the righteous one.
What’s more, the woman loved Jesus before she was forgiven by Him – v48. But, the previous verse seems to say that her sins were already forgiven – v47. Even before Jesus told her she was forgiven, before she heard the words, she was forgiven. Clearly, it’s impossible to decide if someone else is a Christian or not. Here was a sinful woman who had been forgiven by Jesus. Her reputation worked against her. Even her actions worked against her. But Jesus saw her heart, which no one else saw. And Jesus knew that was good enough. Again I say, it’s not up to you to decide if someone is a Christian or not. You can’t tell by church attendance or by political stripes or by reputation or even by actions. Only Jesus sees the heart, and that’s where it’s all decided.So where does that leave us? What does this story mean for us? Well, Simon’s part tells us not to judge another person’s spiritual health by their actions. But the story isn’t really about Simon. It’s about the sinful woman and the love that she showed towards the Lord. This is a story about worship.
And the point is not, “Who’s been forgiven of more things?” The point is, “Who realizes all that they’ve been forgiven of?” It didn’t matter how good the woman was, compared to someone else. All that mattered is that she loved the Lord. She realized how little she deserved to be with the Lord, and she was just grateful for what she had. She loved much because she was forgiven much.That’s what worship is. Worship is for sinful people. Jesus didn’t deny or minimize the fact that the woman was sinful. You don’t have to be perfect to come to church, which is the image believers have given off over the years. That is, you have to be living right if you want to be here. It’s not the image we want to project, but when someone else’s lifestyle disgusts us, it’s hard to hide it, and they see it. But as Jesus said, when we are aware of our own sinfulness, and when we are also aware of His perfection, that’s when worship happens. When we know how little we deserve, and yet God is good to us anyway, that’s when worship happens.
You see, worship isn’t about us. It’s not about making us happy. It’s not about singing the songs we like. Worship is about Jesus. The woman was preoccupied with Jesus. She didn’t care that there were others there who looked down on her. She cared only about what her Lord thought about her. He didn’t care how many hypocrites were around – her worship was focused on Jesus.And for her, worship is not about receiving something from God as much as it was giving something to Him. Jesus was approached by many people, most of whom wanted something from Him. I do not wish to minimize this or to condemn it. If I lived in Jesus’ day and were blind, I would want to come to Jesus for Him to restore my sight. But this woman’s worship was expressed by her giving to Jesus, not getting from Him. Too often, our prayers are like a wish list for Santa. Too seldom, our prayers are praise and adoration alone, without any request, where our only desire is to be in His presence. So this morning I am telling us to be thankful for the Lord’s love. Be grateful to Him for allowing you to know Him. And love Him back. Sometimes it’s hard. There were reasons why this woman could have stayed away from Jesus and not worshipped Him. She wasn’t invited, she wasn’t wanted, she might be kicked out, she would be scorned, and there would be hypocrites there. But she worshipped Jesus anyway.
We should love Him. Honor Him. Respect Him. Obey Him. Spend time with Him. Get to know Him better. Remember all that we’ve been forgiven of. Don’t forget all His goodness to us. That will spur on our worship.