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It was Simon's special occasion and an altogether proper dinner until a gatecrasher stole the show.
A woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping. She began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with fragrant oil.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This Man, if He were a prophet, would know what manner of woman this is who is troubling Him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it."
"There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more."
Jesus said to him, "You have rightly judged." Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."
Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." Luke 7:36-50 NKJV, condensed
A Debt of Love and Gratitude
It must have been very embarrassing to Simon and his other guests. What right did a prostitute have to enter his house and interfere with his plans for the evening. The aroma was overwhelming. They heard her weeping and watched her actions in disbelief while the odor of perfume mixed with the taste of their food. It was an attack on all five senses, and their disgust had an adverse affect on digestion. The intrusion took control of this private gathering as everyone's attention was re-directed to that disreputable woman at Jesus' feet.
Righteous Simon, you are so typical of your kind. Claiming all the virtues except heart-felt compassion. So you think Jesus should have tossed her out into the street where she belonged. She certainly was not worthy to be in the same room with you! And you think Jesus should have known the sum of her life and not let himself be swayed by her tears. What a shock to see Jesus interpret this situation differently and publicly declare his belief in her worth and sincerity!
Jesus had something to say to his host. Simon, confident of his own superior position and not anticipating a reprimand, was ready to hear it. Jesus told him this story: There was a banker who made two loans, one large and the other just a small one. When neither debtor was able to repay their loan, the lender forgave them both so freely there was nothing more either one of them owed him! Now Simon, which one of these two debtors will be the most grateful and love him more?
Simon's answer sounded a bit reluctant. He had suddenly been brought down a few pegs and into the mainstream of humanity. Then Jesus turned back toward the woman, but spoke to Simon about his stingy hospitality which contrasted so sharply with the woman's lavish intentions. Every courtesy which Simon failed to provide, this woman made up for a hundredfold. She had taken her most valuable possession and poured it all out upon the feet of Jesus! Only love would do such an extravagant thing. Therefore her sins which were many, were forgiven. This sinful woman put every one of us to shame! And ironically, she was never given the dignity of being called by her name.
Jesus added this note for Simon: Those of you who think you have little of which to be forgiven, are also lean on love. It's as simple as that. Jesus turned once more and spoke to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." It was a stunning scene. The sinner departed, forgiven and at peace with herself, with God, and with life! Simon and his friends had their peace shattered and they reacted by attacking the messenger. What happened next? We'll never know. The Gospel writer has told us enough, the point dramatically made.
Now what are we to do with all this? Maybe judge Simon or eulogize the prostitute? No, but try to learn something from them. Probably most of those who read this story would identify more with Simon than the sinful woman. Many of us are good Church people who like to think of ourselves as compassionate, understanding people. But that's not how outsiders see us. Simon was a moral man but his attitude repelled people rather than drawing them in with welcoming arms. Why? Because he had never been forgiven! At least he wasn't aware of any such experience.
The process of forgiveness both humbles us and sets us free. It's a downward and an upward journey. Forgiveness puts us on our knees because there is no way we can undo the misdeeds of our past. We need to ask for mercy from God and from the people harmed by our sinful acts. Then when granted, forgiveness picks us up, wipes our slate clean and gives us a chance at a new beginning. Simon, never having been forgiven, did not know the exuberant joy and gratitude of the clean slate.
To Simon, Jesus was just one of many guests invited over the years to entertain his friends around the dinner table. To the woman, Jesus was her Savior for life. Forgiveness like that wrote God's name on her heart with indelible ink. Perhaps we should reconsider which of these two we choose to identify with!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe the warmest reception you ever received when invited to dinner.
Simon had planned a wonderful meal for Jesus. Then circumstances beyond his control ruined everything. Or did it? What do you think?
Finish these two sentences. No one is so good that . . . . No one is so evil that . . . .
Simon wanted to block the way of someone who needed to be in the presence of Jesus. Sometimes in our houses of worship, we are guilty of the same thing. Give an example of this?What does it mean to hate the sin but love the sinner? How can the two be separated?
Simon looked at the woman and saw trouble; Jesus noticed wonderful possibilities. Tell of a time when you believed the best about a person instead of the worst. Who do you know who looks like trouble but in the hands of Jesus, could become a new person? What could you do to help facilitate such a change? What role does love play in a person's transformation?
In what ways is God like the creditor in Jesus' story?Why would Jesus claim that love is rooted in forgiveness?Love of God and love of fellowman--can you have one without the other?
Forgiveness is also an inward and an outward journey. What we receive from God, like grace, mercy, forgiveness and love, we pass on to others. When we don't pass it on, is that a sin? Describe what it is to be lean, mean and stingy with love.
What is the difference between a cold-hearted, a half-hearted and a whole-hearted response to Jesus? What kind of response do you give when Jesus wants your attention?
Get into action by loving someone for Jesus' sake even though, and especially when, they don't deserve it.