Friday, May 05, 2017

Luke 7:36–50

Luke 7:36–50 (ESV): A Sinful Woman Forgiven


This passage continues on from the last few passages, in Luke 7, but I decided to write about it separately because… well, just because.

A Pharisee, Simon, asks Jesus to come and eat with him, and Jesus accepts. A “woman of the city,” a sinner, hears that Jesus is at Simon’s house, and brings a flask of ointment to go and see him. She stands at Jesus’ feet, weeping, and uses her tears to wet his feet and her hair to clean them. (Jesus is “reclining” at table, in the custom of the day, which is essentially lying down to eat, which explains some of the logistics about what’s going on here.) She is also anointing his feet with the ointment she brought, and kissing them.

Seeing what’s going on, Simon immediately doubts that Jesus is a prophet, because if he was, he’d realize who this woman is, and would stop her unclean self from touching him. But Jesus knows what Simon is thinking, so he asks him a question: Suppose two people owed a moneylender some money; one owed 20 months’ wages, and the other owed 2 months’ wages. And suppose neither could pay, so the moneylender simply cancelled both of their debts. In that case, which of the two men would love the moneylender more? Simon answers (correctly) that it would be the one who owed the most money.

Jesus confirms this, and then directs Simon’s attention to the woman, contrasting Simon’s actions with hers:
  • Simon offered no water for Jesus’ feet, while the woman is wetting them with her own tears
  • Simon didn’t kiss Jesus, while the woman hasn’t ceased kissing his feet
  • Simon didn’t anoint Jesus’ head with oil, but the woman has been anointing his feet with ointment
The point? The woman’s sins—which are many—have been forgiven, and so she loves proportionately to that. Whereas one who had been forgiven little would love less.

He then tells the woman, directly, that her sins have been forgiven, and the people at the table are wondering to themselves who this man can be, who is able to forgive sins.


Unless there is a cultural thing going on here that doesn’t translate to modern-day readers, the description of this woman’s sins is pretty vague. She is a “woman of the city,” whatever that means, and she’s a sinner—Jesus even says that she has many sins—but that’s all we’re told. That plus Simon’s reaction, which is one of vague discomfort with her presence. Quite possibly she’s a prostitute or an adulteress—sexual stuff always make religious leaders uncomfortable—but the passage doesn’t say.

It’s not surprising, however, that Simon would expect Jesus to not want to be touched by someone he considered to be unclean; that’s very much in keeping with the Old Testament view of uncleanness as being something that can be passed from person to person; when something (or someone) unclean touches something (or someone) clean, the clean becomes unclean. That’s the Old Testament rule. We’ve seen other passages where Jesus changes that rule—where he touches someone who’s unclean, and makes them clean, in a reversal of the Old Testament way things worked. So Simon can be excused for thinking along those lines, up to a point. There’s a good chance, however, that this woman isn’t “unclean” at all, according to Old Testament rules and regulations. There’s no indication that she is; she’s just a sinner. So it’s also possible that Simon is pushing things too far with her; a common problem with Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who tended to create their own laws and regulations in an effort to interpret the actual Scriptural ones. A common problem that continues up to this day, as well, if, in fact, this woman’s sin is somehow sexual in nature, because it’s always been a common practice to judge women very harshly for their sexual sins, as if they are somehow more unclean than everyone else.

Speaking of being more or less unclean, Jesus says that those who are forgiven more sins will love more, and those who are forgiven little will love little. He’s making a point about why this woman is treating him so well, and contrasting that with Simon’s actions, but we should be careful about taking this too literally. What I mean is, we should not start thinking about who has more or less sins to be forgiven by God; if I’ve committed 2,233,800 sins in my life, and you’ve committed 2,232,800—a thousand less sins!—you’re still only 0.04% less sinful than I am. Which is a silly way to compare sins—which is the point. The requirement from God is sinless perfection, and we’re all so far off from that requirement that it’s silly to start comparing ourselves to each other, we’re all hopeless sinners.

My point is that Jesus is not telling Simon that the woman had a lot of sins while Simon had few. Simon had lots of sins as well. Simon, however, did not view himself as having many sins, and it therefore would never occur to Simon to think about how much love he’d owe God, if those sins were to be forgiven; the woman, on the other hand, knew exactly how sinful she was, and the idea that all of those sins—all of those sins!—could be simply wiped away caused her to love Jesus so much for that forgiveness. The idea of any moneylender simply cancelling the debt of someone who owed him money is ludicrous; the idea that God would forgive us all of our debt would be equally ludicrous, if we didn’t account for the fact that He did it out of love for us. He didn’t just cancel the debt, He paid it for us.

We should all have the same reaction as the woman in this story, and love God according to what He has done for us; woe be to us if we are more like Simon, viewing others as being very sinful while viewing ourselves as having just a few sins to be forgiven.

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