Evidently still in the town of Nain, Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for a meal and he went. (36) There is a nicely ironic transition between this story and the last. Luke recorded Jesus saying that the Son of Man came eating and drinking and the Pharisees called him a glutton and a drunkard. (34) Despite the criticism, this Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to eat and drink.
This meal would have occurred in an open setting, out in front of the house or in an open part of it. People in town would stop by and watch or even visit with the guests. Since Jesus was an intriguing figure, it is likely many people stopped by to see him and see what he would do.
We will see from Simon’s behavior, that he was not a believer. He was a typical Pharisee. Therefore, we may surmise that he invited Jesus to his house to check him out. He actually was quite rude. Jesus later pointed out that he did not give him water to wash his feet. It would have been customary to either have a servant wash the guests’ feet or to at least provide a basin of water for that purpose. Walking around in sandals on dirt streets gets your feet dirty. He also did not kiss Jesus. It is customary in that area and time to kiss the guest on both cheeks. This still happens in some Arab countries today. Lastly, Simon did not put oil on Jesus’ head. This was done in Eastern cultures as a sign of respect to guests. He probably did all these things for his Pharisee guests, so he made it obvious that Jesus was of lower stature in his eyes.
One of the people who stopped by the house was a woman of the city. (37) Luke says she was a sinner. It is said three times, once by Luke, once by Simon the Pharisee and once by Jesus. He does not say what her sin was, but many people assume she was either a prostitute or a promiscuous woman. The people of the time knew her and her reputation, so Simon could label her as a sinner. Nonetheless, she came into the area around the table and stood a Jesus’ feet.
People at that time and place did not sit at tables in chairs as we do today. The table would have been low to the ground. The guests leaned on their left elbow on cushions and took food with their right hands. Their feet would be extended out from the table.
Only Pharisees, and maybe their wives, would have been at the table eating, so the presence of the woman that close would itself have been unusual and even startling. Add the to the fact that she stood there weeping, and you can imagine how uncomfortable the guests were becoming. She wept enough that his feet got wet. (38) Seeing this, she took her hair down, got down on the floor and wiped his feet with her long hair.
This was a shocking incident. Women did not undo their hair in public. The Talmud even said a man could divorce a woman for showing her hair to another man. The Pharisees at the table were likely outraged and shocked. Certainly Simon, the host, was.
But the woman was not finished. After cleaning Jesus’ feet with her hair, she broke open an alabaster flask and anointed his feet with the perfumed ointment. (38) Alabaster was an expensive material and perfumed ointment was also expensive. We see, therefore, that the woman made an extravagant and expensive expression of her love for Jesus.
This act was also an expression of her humility. Such an expensive ointment would normally have been put on someone’s head, but she used it on Jesus’ feet. Normally, only slaves would wash feet. So she took the position of a servant, humbled herself, and gave Jesus tremendous honor in using something on this feet that was normally reserved for a person’s head.
Interestingly, Jesus did not stop the woman at any time. He accepted her expression of love for him, knowing he was entitled to it for one thing, but, I think, also enjoying it. Jesus loves for us to love him. He wants our hearts as well as our minds.
Simon reacted with criticism of Jesus. He said Jesus was not a prophet because, if he were a prophet, he would know the woman was a sinner and would not let her touch him. (39) He assumed that any prophet would adopt the rules of the Pharisees in this matter.
But Jesus was a prophet. He spoke the word of the Lord. And he proved he was a prophet by diagnosing Simon’s heart and explaining the woman’s heart. Simon may not have caught that. It was a little subtle. He answered Simon with a simple parable.
The parable involved two debtors. One owed ten times as much as the other. The money lender forgave both debts. Jesus asked, which one will love him more? (42) Simon answered cautiously, but gave the right answer: the one with the larger debt. Jesus acknowledged that Simon answered correctly. (43)
Then Jesus turned toward the woman. (44) That would cause everyone to look at her. She was standing there with a tear stained face, her hair loose, wet and dirty, and maybe still weeping. And while they looked at her, Jesus compared her to Simon.
Jesus pointed out Simon’ s failure to even show him the minimal courtesy. In contrast, the woman expressed extravagant love him.
Jesus said the reason for the difference in the behavior of the woman and the behavior of Simon was love. The woman had many sins and knew it. Jesus had forgiven them. Because she had been forgiven much, she loved much.
Simon, on the other hand, was a self-righteous Pharisee. He did not want forgiveness and did not think he needed it. Therefore, he had little or no love for Jesus.
Clearly Jesus approved of the woman and disapproved of Simon. That has to make us think, which one of them are we most like?
So, what do we think about loving Jesus? God has always demanded that his people love him. Deuteronomy 6:5 says “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That is pretty clear is it not? God demanded that his people love him with everything they have.
Jesus said this is the first and great commandment. (Matthew 22:37) That means it is the top priority item. Jesus said it even more explicitly in Matthew 10:37. He said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” That is pretty strong stuff.
Many churches put great emphasis on the family. But the family is not our number one priority. Loving God is priority number one. Loving Jesus is priority number one.
So, how can we love Jesus like he wants us to? He gave us the key in the parable and in his description of the woman. She loved much because she was forgiven much. She knew she was a sinner and was overwhelmed by Jesus forgiving her sin.
I think that is why evangelists often come from terrible backgrounds. They were saved from a life of grievous sin and are overwhelmed by that, so much so that they want to tell everyone about it.
But many of us grew up in church. I did. I was there at six weeks old on the cradle roll. I went to Sunday School and heard stories from the Bible. I sat with my dad in church and listened to sermons while my mom sang in the choir. We went Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. We went every night of Spring and Fall revivals. I went to Vacation Bible School in the summer.
In fact, I was saved in VBS the summer of my 9th year. I had done the normal things a little boy did, but I had never been in jail, or killed anyone or committed adultery or even taken the Lord’s name in vain. But I got convicted that I was a sinner headed to hell and I received Jesus by faith and was saved to eternal life.
As time went by, though, I became somewhat self righteous. I did all the things I was supposed to do. I was a good person. But a couple of passages of scripture set me straight.
The first one was James 2:10. James wrote “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” in other words, if you break even one of God’s laws, you are a law breaker. You are a sinner.
I had lied. I had coveted. I had failed to honor my parents. I was a lawbreaker. When I applied Jesus’ standards from the Sermon on the Mount, I realized I was an even greater sinner, for he judged not just actions, but attitudes.
The second scripture was Isaiah 53:6, which says “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. I realized that every sin of mine was put onto Jesus on the cross and added to his suffering. It really pained me when I realized it was not just sins committed before I became a Christian, but those sins I committed afterward. I was personally responsible for Jesus’ suffering.
Realizing fully who I was and what Jesus had done for me was overwhelming. And my love for Jesus increased dramatically. 1 John 4:19 says “we love because he first loved us”. We will love Jesus more when we more fully recognize our sinfulness and his payment for it.
Jesus affirmed the woman directly at the end of the story. He reassured her that her sins were forgiven. He confirmed that she had been saved by faith. (50) And he sent her off in peace. She had peace with God because of Jesus’ work on her behalf.
Jesus and Simon saw this woman two different ways. Simon saw her as she had been, a notorious sinner. Jesus saw as she currently was, forgiven and full of love for him.
Sometimes people will just not get over what someone was. I am always amazed at people who express concern over a young man I have mentored. He was wild in high school. But he is a Godly man now. They need to see him as he is. Jesus does.
One final thought. How can we express love to Jesus today? He is not physically here for us to wash his feet. So, how can we do it?
We can participate in worship whole heartedly. We can sing like we mean it, listen attentively to the sermon and pray fervently. We can spend time with him in private prayer. We can speak of him to others. And we can treat sinners as he did, with compassion and love, seeking their salvation.
William Featherstone wrote a hymn that captures these thoughts:
"My Jesus I Love Thee (I Love You Jesus)"
My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou
If ever I loved Thee my Jesus 'tis now
I love Thee because Thou has first loved me
And purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow
If ever I loved Thee my Jesus 'tis now.
Pour out your love for Jesus this week.