READ: Luke 7
THINK: Okay, so here we have Jesus and he is dining at Simon’s house. Now, it’s important to understand that the custom – when you invited a person into your house – was to offer them water to wash their feet (or have a servant do it) immediately when they arrived. And also to greet them with a kiss (on the cheek). And to offer them a small bit of oil to consecrate themselves. We learn from this passage that Simon did none of those things for Jesus. Which is not just an oversight. It wasn’t by accident that Simon did this. He didn’t simply forget – that’s just not a cultural possibility. He intentionally didn’t offer Jesus these things because he wanted to be in a position of power – he viewed Jesus as less than himself. He invited Jesus to eat with him so that he could learn some more information about Jesus but made it very clear that he was not really interested in really knowing or following Jesus. But then something happens: this woman – who is a prostitute – totally interrupts the dinner! And it wouldn’t have been weird for her to be standing there in his house – the houses were open and people often gathered to listen to Pharisees and rabbis talk over dinner – but it was incredibly shocking that this woman interrupted to conversation and that she touched Jesus. Women were not allowed to touch men in that society.
But here she is, at Jesus feet, and she is crying and then her tears land on his feet so she wipes them off with her hair and then pours oil on them. And Jesus just lets her. So at this point Simon is thinking: “Hey, alright, my question is totally answered. I wanted to see if this guy was a legit prophet but now I know. He is obviously not.” And Simon decides this because he’s made some serious assumptions: 1. Jesus must not know that he’s being touched by a prostitute. Being touched by a prostitute would make him “unclean” and so he is clearly oblivious to the truth about this woman’s past. & 2. If Jesus did know, he certainly wouldn’t allow this. He’d tell her to get away from him immediately. And that’s not a surprising conclusion for Simon to make. He is a Pharisee. A really super religious guy who is careful to check all the boxes of faith and not do bad stuff and be better than those around him. So his entire context and his entire understanding of faith lead to the assumption that if Jesus was really connected to the heart of God then he would avoid “sinners” just like Simon and the rest of the Pharisees did. But then Jesus – in his brilliant way – totally turns the tables on Simon. And completely shatters Simon’s assumptions in the process. He reads Simon’s thoughts and poses a question to him:
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, (1 denaruis was 1 days wages for the average laborer) 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?” And at this point, Simon pretty much has to give the answer that he gives. Jesus pretty much only leaves that option open. And I can imagine that Simon answered somewhat reluctantly. He probably had some idea, in the moment, that Jesus was going somewhere with this that would not be super comfortable for him. And so Simon says, “the one with the bigger debt.”
And Jesus says, “Yeah. Check this out: When I showed up you dishonored me and made it really clear that you don’t think you need me. You wanted to know about me but you don’t wanna know me. And now this woman, this broken, hurting, sinful prostitute honors me and shows me a huge amount of love. See, Simon, you’re a Pharisee so you are super good at going through the motions of religiosity and not doing bad stuff and she is a prostitute. The person who has been forgiven much loves much but the person who has been forgiven little loves little.” But there is something critically important for us to understand here about what Jesus is saying: What he is not saying is that Simon needs less forgiveness than the woman. He isn’t saying: “Hey, Simon, you’re so good at doing the right thing that you pretty much are earning your own salvation. You don’t need me as much as her.” No, what Jesus is saying is, “You don’t think you need me. You’re so proud of your church attendance record and of all the boxes you can check to show how good you are that you don’t think you need much forgiveness. But she gets it. She knows what a sinner she is. She knows that there is nothing she can do to earn it. She is passionate and excited about really knowing me because she sees how desperately she needs me.”
One of the crazy things about this passage is that Jesus doesn’t disagree with Simon about the status of this woman. He doesn’t say “Simon, she’s fine.” He totally agrees that she is a jacked up sinner. But he says she’s forgiven because she knows it – and she trusts him to save her instead of trusting herself. I think it’s really tempting for all of us to approach Jesus more like Simon did than like the woman did. It’s tempting to try to earn our salvation by being good enough, to put our trust in ourselves instead of admitting that we are helpless and in need. And I think that temptation is complicated even further by the feel-good relativism of American culture in the 21st century. Everybody wants to do whatever they feel like – whatever they personally decide is good enough to earn themselves a spot in Heaven – and then say, “Well, Jesus loves me just the way I am.” Yeah right! We say that to justify the sins we wanna keep doing. Jesus loves you just the way you are. Tell that to a meth addict – face wrinkled from malnutrition, sores covering their entire body, maybe ½ their teeth left…maybe. Jesus loves you just the way you are? Broken and addicted? No, Jesus wants so much more and so much better for you than that! Here is the truth: Jesus loves us even though we’re the way we are! He loves us enough to DIE for us even though we’re messed up and sinful. That’s way more profound and meaningful. And it opens up the door to real relationship and intimacy. Faith becomes so much more than just a list of rules that we follow to try to earn our way into Heaven. It becomes an incredible journey of responding to God’s awesome love by entering into a relationship with him. Simon wanted to know about Jesus, the woman responded to his invitation to really know him.
What does your faith look like – do you want to know about God or are you really pursuing a relationship with him?
PRAY: Acknowledge the incredibly deep need that you have for God’s forgiveness. Thank him for it. Confess the times when you’ve minimized your faith and allowed it to become about checking boxes instead of pursuing God. Commit to seeking him.