Vol. 6, No. 4
~ Page 13 ~
Please Read Luke 7:36-50
Jesus had an unusual lunch one day with a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:36-50). During the course of the meal, a prostitute1 came into the courtyard and approached Jesus. Since their custom was to remove sandals and recline on pillows while eating, when she came up behind him, she stood over his bare feet. She noticed that they had not been washed by the host (a common custom), so she knelt beside him and began to wipe his feet clean with the hairs of her head (picture this!), expressing gratitude for what he had done.2
All this, as you might imagine, was quite embarrassing to Simon! Under normal circumstances, he would not even walk on the same street with this woman. Now she's on his property, affectionately greeting his Guest. What should he do? How can he graciously handle this situation? Why was Jesus letting her do this?
Simon used the circumstances to form an opinion about the validity of Jesus' claim to be a prophet. He figures no true prophet would allow such a woman to touch him, so he either did not know what kind of woman she was (thus lacking a prophet's discernment) or knew and did not care (thus lacking a prophet's holiness). Simon's conclusion: Either way, Jesus was no prophet.
Of course Simon did not verbalize these thoughts to his Guest, but the whole time Simon was reasoning this out, Jesus was reading his mind. Simon "said" more than he meant to that day. In fact, Simon still "says" a lot today.
Simon says, "Pretend you're not a sinner." It was too bad that this woman had fallen into sin, but it was even worse that Simon was living in sin and did not know it. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and in Matthew 23, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for self-righteousness and unwillingness to admit sin. The Pharisee in one of Jesus' parables (typical of many Pharisees) felt that God was his debtor, rather than the other way around (Luke 18:10-11). This "holier than thou" attitude was repulsive to Jesus -- and it is repulsive to people today.
It is interesting to note that those who walked closest to God often saw their sinfulness the clearest. Abraham considered himself "but dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27). God confessed Job to be "perfect and upright" (Job 1:1), yet Job confessed to God "Behold, I am vile"(40:4). Ezra prayed, "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face" (9:6). Peter fell to is knees and begged the Lord, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8), and when John saw the glorified Christ, he fell at his feet as a dead man (Revelation 1:17). Paul, the chief of missionaries, called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
Jesus told Simon a little story to help him see his condition: "There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both..." (Luke 7:41-42). In the ensuing discussion, Jesus made the point that all men are sinners whether they feel guilty or not. Both of the men were in debt and bankrupt. The difference between 500 pence and 50 pence is not a difference in guilt. The two amounts represent a difference in their sense of guilt. The woman was not more lost than the Pharisee. How much sin does a person have to commit in order to be a sinner? Ten sins or a hundred? James said, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all"(2:10). Interestingly, the prostitute was actually better than the Pharisee because she would admit and turn from her sin. Simon says,"Pretend you don't have any sins, and they will go away" (but Simon is wrong).
Simon says, "Pretend a sin's not a sin unless you do it." Simon knew what the woman had done, but forgot what he had not done. She was guilty of sins of commission; he was guilty of sins of omission. She had done wrong; he had failed to do right. He had not even shown Jesus common courtesy -- the kiss of welcome, water for his feet, and oil for his head (cf. Genesis 18:1-8). Many will find themselves on the defensive at the Judgment Day, not for what they did, but for what they did not do. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). One who does not do what God requires is as guilty as the one who does what God forbids. Simon says, "Ignoring God's commands is better than breaking them (but Simon is wrong).
Simon says, "Act like the other fellow's sins are worse then yours." The woman had been guilty, evidently, of blatant sexual sins (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 5:19-21). She was a sinner. Simon knew it; she knew it; Jesus knew it; everybody knew it. Simon, too, was a sinner only he didn't know it. He was not guilty of immorality, but of sins of attitude (unfair judging, for instance, Matthew 7:1-2). The Pharisees practiced "respectable sins" like hypocrisy and pride (Matthew 23:23; 12:24-34). They condemned others to exalt themselves. They were covetous (Luke 16:14), not only of money, but of prestige and praise. They practiced their religion only to be seen of men (Matthew 6:5; 23:5). Such sins wouldn't keep you out of polite company, but they would keep you out of heaven. These sins most likely won't cause the church to withdraw fellowship from you (1 Corinthians 5), but they will cause God to withhold his hand of mercy. Simon says, "Sins of the flesh are worse than sins of the spirit" (but Simon is wrong).
Simon says, "Don't worry about the sins that nobody knows about." To Simon, open sins were worse than hidden sins. If nobody knows about it, then don't sweat it. Everyone at the feast knew who the woman was and what she had done. Her sins were open. But only Jesus (who can read hearts, John 2:25) knew Simon's. Simon was conscious of no need, felt no love and so received no forgiveness. His impression of himself was that he was a good man in the sight of God and men. The woman was conscious of nothing else than an immediate need for forgiveness. The Pharisee, who sought no forgiveness, obtained what he sought. Simon says, "That if it's hidden, it's covered" (but Simon is wrong).
Don't play with Simon; he'll get you in trouble.
1 harmartolos, sinner " a notoriously bad woman."
2 The Greek verb tense indicates she had already been forgiven (v. 48).