Read: Luke 7:36-50
Today, we get to revisit Mark: Jesus Anointed at Bethany from a different perspective and at a different time. This is not during passion week, not just before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, so it seems this is a separate event that ends with a different emphasis near the beginning of Jesus’ traveling ministry.
The passage we read in Luke ends with, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” For some reason, I’m stuck on that sentence. It seems likely that Luke places this story here quite intentionally, though different from Matthew, Mark, and John — all recall this scene as Jesus foresaw. After examples of a centurion’s faith, the widow’s son, and John the Baptist, we are taken to a Pharisee’s home to witness a sinful woman’s faith. How incredible!
Simon the Pharisee
Jesus demonstrates the width of His ministry in this story by accepting an invitation to dinner with a Pharisee. That alone is interesting and revealing. We don’t know if Simon was looking for some insider information or if he was starting to lean toward Jesus’ teaching, though the former seems likely. In any case, Jesus shows up. Lord, help me to just show up in the right place at the right time!
The NIV Application Commentary adds a bit of backstory for consideration. In those days, when a public figure was invited to dinner, the front door of the house remained open to allow the public to hear what was said–it was an event, not a private affair. The woman in the story takes advantage of the opportunity, but steps across the line to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair. Simon kept his distance as he considers the offensive event:
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39
I have to be honest, I love when people are talking to themselves, thinking Jesus has no clue, then He turns to them and addresses their concern as if they spoke out loud. I can imagine Simon took a step back when Jesus looked at him and offered a parable to help him understand. He wisely responds, “tell me…”
Two people are forgiven their debts: both quite a lot, but one ten times as much. Jesus asks Simon a simple question:
Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Luke 7:42
It’s interesting to try and quantify the amount of love offered to the one who forgave the debt, but Simon gets the point, so I don’t think dwelling on the thought of loving more is appropriate, just something to let sink in a bit.
Yes, Jesus, the one who was forgiven more. Simon wins the Sunday School prize.
Simon didn’t expect Jesus to tie the story to the offensive woman. Jesus points out that Simon didn’t greet Him with a customary kiss, nor did he wash His feet or offer perfume for His head. Instead, this notoriously sinful woman performs this incredible service.
Here’s the crux of the story: because she showed such deep faith, Jesus forgave her sins. This is a mic-drop moment during dinner. The other Pharisees heard that, if nothing else, and are now in a tizzy.
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Luke 7:49
It’s funny that they’re talking amongst themselves when Jesus is standing right there. Cowards! Ask the question! Nope. I suspect this is a sub-theme that Luke chose to weave into his writing, letting us see that there are those watching and keeping score in secret.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus knew their thoughts as well. His response has nothing to do with the doubters. Jesus accepts the woman’s offering and turns to her:
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:50
Not her perfume, though that was expensive. Not her tears or wiping His feet, though that was appreciated. Her faith is more important than any thing she did.
Lord, may we do what is right, what is honorable, these things are important, but please increase our faith as we battle this crazy world!