How do people respond when they are forgiven? The first of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is love. People who have truly sought forgiveness from Jesus and have received that forgiveness will respond in a love for Christ. We see this displayed in the woman in Luke 7.
We also see the response of a person, Simon the Pharisee, who has not sought nor received forgiveness from Christ.
Luke 7:36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
Why did Simon invite Jesus to eat at his house? To be honest, we are not told, Simon could have had good intentions. Later, however, it’s revealed that Simon did little in the way of showing the customary hospitality to Jesus, so it seems that Simon did not have the best of intentions. In either case, Simon’s hard heart was about to be revealed by the appearance of a certain woman.
THE WOMAN (7:36-39)
Luke 7:37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
The woman appears to have been a prostitute. Luke is being polite by calling her “a sinner.” There is a tradition that this is Mary Magdalene, but it’s only a tradition with no biblical support.
It might seem strange to us that the woman was even allowed into Simon’s home. How could a straight-laced Pharisee let that happen?
It helps to know something about homes and dinner parties in those days. Homes, at least those of the wealthy, had an open courtyard that had rooms on some of the sides and a wall on the other sides.
In the courtyard, there might be the ovens for cooking and a water cistern. Think of it as being a fenced-in backyard.
On a warm evening, a dinner party would naturally be held in the courtyard. These were not completely private occasions, but more like a block party in a neighborhood. A person walking by would drop in, talk to a friend who had been invited, munch on a snack, and leave.
This woman had heard that Jesus would be at Simon’s house, and dropped by to see him. Evidently she had met Jesus previously, and had come to faith at that time. That will become obvious as we work through the passage. Here she doesn’t beg him to forgive her—she expresses her love for him because he has forgiven her already.
She brought an “alabaster box of ointment.” Alabaster was a white stone that was used to make all sorts of fine artwork and containers, including perfume vials. Some of these perfume vials were so small and delicate that they could be hung on a necklace. Often, these were one-use bottles—they had a long neck that you would break off and then pour the contents out. This woman had expensive perfume in an expensive bottle.
Luke 7:38 [She] stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
How does one stand at someone’s feet and behind him while he is at the table eating? The people of that day did not sit at tables like we do. They laid on their side and propped themselves up with their elbow. Their head would be at the table and their feet would be away from the table.
This is, by the way, how Peter could lie on Jesus’s breast at the Last Supper in John 13:25. Peter was in front of Jesus and simply let his head fall back onto Jesus’s breast to ask him the question, “Lord, who is it.”
The woman walked to Jesus’s feet and stood there a moment, weeping because she had been forgiven so much. Then, seeing his dirty feet (Simon had not offered the customary hospitality of foot washing to Jesus), she knelt down and began to wash his feet with her tears. She kissed his feet and poured her perfume out on them.
Having no towel to work with, she let down her hair and used it to wipe his feet. We would think of this as being a very humble and submissive act—and it was—but it was also a very shameful thing for a woman to let down her hair in that culture. Think of the most shameful thing that a woman could do in public today…it was that shameful. And this is what Simon sees.
Simon doesn’t see her act of humility. He only sees the shame.
Luke 7:39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
The word “toucheth” (aptō) can have a very intimate meaning in the Bible (see Genesis 20:6; Proverbs 6:29; 1 Corinthians 7:1). Simon is obviously thinking along those lines.
For Simon, and other Pharisees, what Jesus should be doing is kicking the woman away with his feet, not letting her kiss his feet.
More than that, the fact that Jesus doesn’t seem to understand that this woman is a sinner is evidence that Jesus is not a prophet. A prophet would have known what this woman was.
Before we move on, let’s examine our own hearts a moment. It’s easy for us to get down on Simon. But really, how do you react when someone who you consider a great sinner walks in the room?
Is another person’s sinfulness so blinding to you, that you cannot see the person inside—the person who needs to be saved by Jesus? We need to be truthful and honest about sin, but let’s also not drive people away with our hateful attitudes from the one who can forgive their sin!
In an encounter that we are not told about, Jesus must have gotten close to this woman and she in turn sought and received God’s forgiveness. God doesn’t like prostitution. He doesn’t accept it as a valid lifestyle. But no Pharisee allowed himself to get close enough to this woman to teach her about God’s forgiveness. Jesus did, and so should we.
Jesus turns back to Simon to teach him a lesson about God’s forgiveness.
THE PARABLE (7:40-43)
Luke 7:40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
Simon is, at least, teachable. His use of the term, “Master” (or Teacher) shows Jesus a great respect. He is willing to listen. Jesus launches into a parable:
Luke 7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
What Jesus is saying is that, in terms of morality, the woman was a great sinner, a 500-level sinner, if you will. Simon, the Pharisee who kept his nose clean, was a 50-level sinner.
But what is true of both? They are both sinners! “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We must beware of comparing ourselves with others as if they are a sinner and we are not. We are all sinners. Jesus goes on:
Luke 7:42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Luke 7:43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
Does Jesus mean that we cannot have greater love for Christ unless we have greater sins that he has forgiven?
No, that is not the point. We need to recognize the depth of our forgiveness in order to have a great love for Christ. Maybe we grew up in a Christian home and lived an upright life. We do not need to go sin for a season in order to appreciate God’s forgiveness.
We do, however, need to recognize that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). When we recognize the depth of sin that God has forgiven us, then our appreciation—our love for him—will increase in proportion to what we recognize about our sinfulness.
For some, this is less difficult to recognize. The drug-dealing rapist who is converted to Jesus will have a lot of love for Jesus, just like the prostitute here in Luke 7. And that’s just because they can recognize their sin readily.
But for those of us who have lived decent lives, we don’t have to go do something bad so we can appreciate being forgiven for it! We only have to uncover the tarps that hide the sin already in our hearts.
Our sins won’t be the same as the drug-dealer and the prostitute, but our sin will still be worthy of eternal damnation in Hell. Once we see that, we will have more love for Jesus.
THE APPLICATION (7:44-47)
Watch now how Jesus takes the parable of the two debtors and applies it to the situation at hand:
Luke 7:44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Luke 7:45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
Luke 7:46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Suppose you were invited to a home for a meal—a home to which you have never been. You ring the doorbell…no one answers. You ring again. Someone shouts, “It’s open.” You walk in, holding your hot dish. No one comes to take your hot dish or coat.
You shrug your shoulders and look around for the kitchen. There’s a couple talking in the kitchen. They glance at you as you hold the hot dish out towards them. They respond by tilting their heads towards the counter and return to their conversation. You set the hot dish down and wonder where you are to put your coat.
Simon had failed to do any of the customary hospitable things that a host should have done for his guests. A host would have servant wash the feet of his guests (people walked on dusty roads without the comfort 0f socks and tennis shoes). The oil (inexpensive olive oil) on the head and face was refreshing after a day in the hot sun. A host was also expected to greet the guests with the traditional Middle Eastern kiss on the cheek.
Jesus points out that Simon did none of these things, but the woman did do them and did them above and beyond all expectations. What is the point Jesus is making? Is he miffed that Simon didn’t greet him properly? No, Jesus doesn’t get upset over petty things like the lack of hospitality from a host. His point goes deeper.
Luke 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
It’s important to understand correctly how the word, “for,” is being used here. The word “for” can be the reason for something (“the car crashed for the driver was drunk”) or it can be the evidence of something (“the car crashed for I saw it with my own eyes”).
In the same way, when Jesus says, “Her sins…are forgiven; for she loved much,” he doesn’t mean that her great love for Jesus caused him to forgive her sins. That would be works-salvation. Later, in verse 50, Jesus says that her faith has saved her, so we know that’s not what he means here.
When Jesus says that “Her sins…are forgiven; for she loved much,” he is using “for” to point to evidence. He means that you can tell that her sins are forgiven because she is expressing such honor and devotion towards him. And you can tell she had a lot of sins to be forgiven because of the greatness of her love towards him.
What is Jesus saying to Simon? He is saying that Simon’s lack of hospitality towards himself is evidence that Simon doesn’t understand that Jesus is the way to be forgiven. That is what Jesus demonstrates in the last verses here.
THE AUTHORITY (7:48-50)
Luke 7:48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
Jesus isn’t forgiving her sins on the spot here. He is saying that they are already forgiven. I could say the same to you if you are a Christian, “Your sins are forgiven.” I mean that, when you became a Christian, your sins were forgiven and even to this day, they remain forgiven.
The Greek grammar proves this is the case because the phrase, “Thy sins are forgiven” is in the perfect-passive tense which could be translated, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
The important thing to get here is that Jesus is claiming to be the source of forgiveness. The people around the table picked this up.
Luke 7:49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
Back in Luke 5, Jesus had also demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins when he forgave the sins of the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof (5:20). The people there also got upset because they knew only God could forgive sins and therefore Jesus was claiming to be God.
Would Simon and the others at the table accept this from Jesus? We aren’t told, but it appears doubtful that they did. Jesus focuses on the woman:
Luke 7:50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
There are two elements we need to see:
First, her “faith” is what saved her. It doesn’t matter if you have been a 500-level sinner or a 50-level sinner or a 5-level sinner. You can only be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. You must believe that he has the authority to forgive all your sins because of his death and resurrection.
Second, Jesus says that she should “go in peace.” In one sense, this is an ordinary farewell of the day. But we can’t help thinking that he also referred to a deeper peace—a peace with God.
For years, she had lived in rebellion to God’s plan and God’s ways. She did not keep herself pure, she misused her body, and many other sins. She, as any Jew did, believed there was a God, but she lived in a personal war against him. Upon her death, God would rightly condemn her for her sins.
But forgiveness brought peace with God. No longer would she be condemned to an eternity of punishment. She would instead live a life of love, joy and devotion to him.
How about you? Do you have peace with God? You can have that peace only by faith in Jesus Christ—
1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Romans 5:1)