Sermon / June 12, 2016 / Luke 7:36-8:3 / Do You See This Woman? / Pastor Terry Defoe
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.” (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
This morning, Luke tells us a story we can all relate to. He describes the impact of Jesus’ ministry on two very different people. This morning, Jesus brings His gospel message to those outside the mainstream of Jewish society as well as to the religious elite. Jesus is the Messiah, the One who forgives sins, who saves, and who grants peace to people regardless of their background. I pray that God would bless the time we spend in His Word this day!
Our text speaks of numerous women who came to faith in Jesus. It describes a group of women who followed Jesus and provided for him “out of their resources.” (8:1-3, NRSV) In addition to Jesus’ twelve disciples, a number of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others, accompanied him on his mission trips. You can be sure that seeing a teacher with both male and female followers would have caused quite a stir back then.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we find answers to the basic question: "Who is this Jesus?" The chapter before us this morning, Luke chapter 7, provides us with several clues. We are told, for instance, that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant from a distance and that he raised a young man from the dead. When Jesus restored life to the young man, the people said, "A great prophet has risen among us!" (7:16, NRSV). After that, Jesus answered a question from John's disciples indicating that He was indeed the Messiah and that, as a result of His ministry, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. In Luke 7, we are also told that Jesus has the power to forgive sins, something reserved for God alone.
Our Gospel text for today compares two very different individuals with two very different ways of understanding their faith. This morning, we will see how Luke compares the actions of a Pharisee by the name of Simon with those of an unnamed sinful woman who comes to Jesus with a thankful heart. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Word!
One day, Jesus was invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s house. The Pharisee’s name was Simon. Simon, it seems, was a prominent person in the community, because he’s one of the few Jewish leaders in the Gospels to be called by name. Apparently, Simon had heard about Jesus and was curious to see what this teacher from Nazareth was all about. Simon’s guests were most likely prominent members of the community as well. There’s a good chance that among Simon’s guests that day were several Jewish religious leaders. The focus of attention, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, the young teacher everyone was talking about. And this was more than just a meal. It was a gathering to discuss important matters.
Three times in Luke’s Gospel we hear that Jesus ate with Pharisees (7:36, 11:37; 14:1). Jesus didn’t show favoritism. He not only ate with "tax collectors and sinners," (7:34) but also with Pharisees! Of course, these were the same Pharisees He had recently insulted when He said that sinners and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of heaven before them! Jesus often disregarded social norms, including commonly-accepted rules about who He was supposed to eat with and who He was supposed to avoid. Jesus was willing to share a meal with anyone who invited him.
So why was Jesus invited to this particular dinner? Was it intended to be a test of some kind? Did Simon hope Jesus would say something that could eventually be used against Him? The Gospels tell us that Jesus was under constant scrutiny by the religious leaders.
During the dinner, an uninvited woman entered Simon’s home. She poured oil on Jesus’ feet, unbound her hair, and wiped his feet with her hair and anointed them with the perfumed ointment she had brought along. She wept and repeatedly kissed Jesus’ feet. Her behavior was considered unacceptable by Simon and his guests. Aside from the fact that she had crashed the party, a woman would never have done such things. Into this formal all-male gathering came an uninvited woman. And not just any woman, mind you, but a woman with a reputation. It seems that Simon knew her, or better yet, knew of her less-than-stellar reputation in that community.
She boldly interrupted the proceedings. The disturbance escalated from concern with her presence to concern with her behavior. I’m quite sure that she wouldn’t have been allowed to stay if Jesus hadn’t intervened on her behalf. If Jesus hadn’t allowed her to do these things, there’s a good chance that Simon would have had her removed from his house. And his guests would have applauded his actions.
To Simon and his guests, the woman’s behavior was shocking. But then, when you think about it, she was a woman with a reputation. She had no "good name" left to lose. And Jesus? Any self-respecting Jewish man would have reacted with anger at her behavior. The fact that He allowed this behavior tarred Jesus with the same brush as the woman touching him. This woman was considered unclean. She had clearly crossed the line.
Just when Simon was asking himself, "Doesn't Jesus know what sort of person this is?” Jesus broke the silence. He told a brief parable that made it clear that he did in fact know what sort of woman this was, and more than that, He also knew the truth about Simon. Jesus knew what had prompted the woman’s display of extravagant hospitality and extreme devotion. His parable explained her odd behavior. And it encouraged Simon and his guests to see this event from a whole new perspective.
Jesus’ parable spoke of two debtors. One person’s debt was ten times larger than the other. Both were forgiven. The root of the Greek word translated "to cancel" means ”grace, kindness, or mercy.” In our modern world, we can certainly understand the bondage that financial debts can cause and what release from those debts would be like. The point of Jesus' parable was simple: If two people have their debts cancelled, the one who owes the most is going to be most grateful. He was obviously referring to the woman, standing right there in front of them. She had been forgiven much. That explained her actions. She was overcome by gratitude, the gratitude experienced by a person who has had every sin forgiven.
Jesus did know the woman’s true status and was therefore a true prophet of God. Jesus wanted to let His host know that this woman was no longer the same person Simon once knew. She had been forgiven much and therefore loved much. She had heard the gospel, and by the Spirit’s enabling, had responded to it, and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of salvation. Jesus’ parable would have been sufficient to explain the woman’s motivation, but He didn’t stop there. He also pointed out that Simon wasn’t a particularly good host. At this point, Jesus changed the focus from the woman’s amazing devotion to Simon’s shameful neglect. Simon had denied Jesus the customary courtesies a host would normally extend to a guest. As Jesus had just said, “... whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (7:47, NIV) In this story, the role of host has been reversed. The woman has been a more generous host than Simon was. She was grateful. He was rude.
Rather than being impressed by the woman’s expression of love, Simon judged both her and Jesus as well. Simon, it seems, was trapped in a judgmental hardness of heart. As a Pharisee, he believed that he was righteous and pleasing to God. He maximized the faults of others and minimized his own. He believed that he was one of God’s chosen people. He obeyed the law.
Luke wants his readers to know that Jesus offers forgiveness to everyone – to people like the sinful woman as well as to those like Simon the Pharisee. Those who feel they have no need for forgiveness cannot receive Jesus’ remedy for sin, earned for them when he died on the cross. Simon would have to undergo a complete change of heart before he became aware of his sins. He would have to understand God's law in a fundamentally new way. The law was accusing him, telling him he didn't measure up to God's standard of holiness. Simon’s sins would have to be dealt with. And, ironically, the One who would soon do that at the cross, was standing right in front of him.
The Pharisees believed that the law – they called it the Torah – brought life. Jesus knew that this belief was completely misinformed. This was not what God intended that His Law should do. God’s Law points out sin. It motivates people to seek God's forgiveness and grace in and through His Son. Sinners need to move beyond the Law’s condemnation. They need God’s grace in Christ. The Law puts us to death. The Gospel, on the other hand, raises us to life. The Apostle Paul said, ’I have been crucified with Christ.’ (Gal 2:20, NIV) The Law diagnoses our problem. The Gospel delivers the cure.
Luke 7:44 brings us to a turning point:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?" (NIV)
In other words, “Simon, do you truly understand her situation, her reality?” Simon and his guests clearly didn’t. When Jesus looked at the woman, He saw someone who had been forgiven, someone who had been given a fresh start in life. Simon, on the other hand, totally misunderstood her expressions of hospitality, and love, and gratitude. To a large degree, a person’s worldview, religious or otherwise, determines what they can or cannot perceive. Simon and his guests had a legalistic, self-righteous worldview. To them, this woman was clearly a sinner, a troublemaker, someone who made others “unclean.” She was a person who ought to be shunned.
This woman had entered Simon’s house, seeking Jesus, overwhelmed with gratitude for her deliverance from sin. Her love for the Lord and her gratitude for His gift of salvation motivated her to break with social convention and “crash” this dinner with its VIP guests. Her pure, unvarnished joy was prompted by Jesus’ mercy and grace. It’s been said that grace is getting something wonderful you don’t deserve. And mercy is not getting something terrible you do deserve. As a sinner, this woman didn’t deserve, and could never earn, salvation from God. Jesus said to her, ”Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." (7:50, NIV) This woman had found peace, or, more accurately, peace had found her. She had known no real peace until Jesus found her. Her life had been filled with shame and remorse.
Jesus addressed the woman. “Your sins are forgiven,” (7:48, NIV) he said. It’s clear that Jesus had already met this woman, at some earlier time, and had forgiven her sins. He said that her actions were an expression of great love, and that her sins, “which were many, have been forgiven.” (7:47, NRSV) She was, like us, a sinner saved by grace. Jesus’ forgiveness brought a sinful woman into the Kingdom of God -- into the community of God's people.
But is forgiveness really that important? Absolutely! Forgiveness restores our broken relationship with God. It cancels our sin debt and frees up the future for us. Forgiveness grants us peace with God. You see, being indebted to God, being in bondage to sin, dominates and defines us. But when we’re forgiven by God’s grace, that bondage disappears and we are set free. So, yes, forgiveness is really that important! Luke’s gospel stresses Jesus’ concern for all sinners. Jesus, of course, was criticized repeatedly for hanging out with a bad crowd. He was described as "a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (7:34, NIV) Throughout Luke’s gospel, we see Jesus building bridges to such people. He said that he hadn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (5:32) He spoke of the joy in heaven that occurs when just one sinner repents. (15:7, 10)
This morning, we’ve heard a story about forgiveness - forgiveness granted, and forgiveness withheld. This is a story about the intense gratitude that God’s forgiveness generates. It’s also a story about hardness of heart, a judgmental attitude and a sense of entitlement. Two sins are evident here. First is Simon’s sin of self-righteousness and second, the woman’s sinful lifestyle. Both are equally condemning. And both were soon to be dealt with at the cross!
The woman in our text was justified. She was declared righteous – made right with God. As God’s Word entered her heart, the Holy Spirit enabled her to put her trust in Jesus’ gracious offer of forgiveness. She was, like all believers in all generations, justified by grace through faith. She was no longer the same person because of the grace of God that was now at work in her heart. Her faith brought about a wonderful transformation. She was a new creation in Christ. For that amazing transformation, in her and in us, we thank God! Amen.
And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in this same Christ Jesus. Amen.
Let’s Pray - DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER - Forgive us for the times when, like the woman in our text this morning, we disobey your will for us, and also for the times when, like the Pharisee Simon, we display a judgmental attitude toward others. Help us reach out, as Jesus does, to those on the margins as well as to those in the mainstream! In Jesus’ name. Amen.