Luke 7 is a familiar story to most: the woman who interrupts dinner to wash and perfume Jesus’s feet, vexing the Pharisaical witnesses. The focus is primarily on her, this “sinner,” presumably a prostitute because she is described as “a woman of the city” (7:37 ESV). We remember her. But what about the host of the meal?
“Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him” (Luke 7:36). Note that Luke is attaching this story to what just occurred prior with the transition “then“. What precedes this story is an account of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus, and Jesus condemning those who do not recognize Him as the One whom John spoke about (Luke 7:18-35). Luke summarizes the response to Jesus’ words: “when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God’s way of righteousness…But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by [John], they rejected the plan of God for themselves.” The Pharisees reject God’s plan and the very next story is about a Pharisee inviting Jesus to eat. Suspicious?
The Pharisee’s Welcome
This Pharisee, soon addressed as Simon, has dubious motives for extending an invitation to Jesus. Leon Morris notes that historically speaking, “A meal such as the one that Jesus was attending was not private. People could come in and watch what went on.” Was Simon looking to figure Jesus out? Or perhaps this “expert of the law” had plans to make a mockery of him? The plain and unembellished dinner invitation “invited Him to eat” stands in contrast to the kind of reception Jesus is met with by genuine disciples-in-the-making, such as Zacchaeus who “quickly came down and welcomed Him joyfully” in Luke 19.
The Sinner’s Welcome
A woman enters to wash Jesus’ feet, and Simon thinks to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” Simon is inwardly puffed up by his own wisdom and morality, but Jesus loves Him too much to let it go unchecked. “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Simon’s innermost thoughts are interrupted and his response is, as Morris notes, “polite but not encouraging.” One translation of Simon’s response is “say it”, and another, “speak on.” The Greek word used (phémi), literally means “to produce an epiphany.” In other words, given the context a tone of sarcasm was likely, and Simon’s words were likely something to the effect of “Enlighten us!”
Jesus proceeds, but He speaks by way of parable and perhaps that is evidence of judgement. Jesus says plainly that the meaning of parables is hidden to those who are not called his disciples (Luke 8:9-10). He speaks to Simon:
“‘A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one he forgave more.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ He told him.”
Simon’s reluctance to admit the obvious reveals a hard heartedness. Perhaps he was in no mood to be schooled by Jesus. Jesus’ next question is telling: “Do you see this woman?” Simon was not blind to the woman’s presence in the room, but He was spiritually blind to the parable’s present application, blind to the beauty of what he just witnessed, and blind to the implication it had for his soul.
Jesus contrasts the welcome He received from Simon with the welcome He received from the woman, and the facts stand to highlight Luke’s greater point: Simon’s welcome, at its heart, is no welcome at at all but a rejection.
“I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little. Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”
This is not a question of who is the better Martha Stewart. The dinner invitation extended by Simon had no real welcome behind it whatsoever.
The Exemplary Host
It was customary for a host to provide water for guests to wash their feet. It was expected that the host greet guests with a friendly kiss. It was a mark of respect for a host to anoint their guests with oil. Each of these gestures were neglected by Simon, but attended to lavishly by the woman. What made the difference in these two responses to Jesus?
Simon was an elite, educated man, well versed in Jewish rituals and overly concerned with the form in which the Messiah came. He simply could not conceive of a Savior preached by the wild, unconventional likes of John the Baptist, and He most certainly could not digest the notion of a promise-fulfilling King who wandered around ministering to the crust of society. Simon’s search for a Savior had more to do with acquiring recognition by association, righteousness by the condemnation of others, and rescue by his own merit. Jesus didn’t offer any of those things.
Jesus does offer whole and complete forgiveness, found only in the full acceptance of His lowly, unglamorous, servant-characterized life.
Simon wasn’t ready to make that exchange. He wasn’t looking for a debt of gratitude, but rather a kingdom-conquering cohort. Simon failed to understand that he had been forgiven a 500 denarii debt. He was blind to the beauty of rescue, promenading before Jesus oblivious to his condemned state.
But the woman? She had no reason to put on airs. She was reminded daily of her unclean and wretched position—she was well acquainted with lowliness. She brought nothing to the table in merit or trade. She had shame enough to go around; what she needed was cleansing forgiveness. She was devoid of righteousness and she knew the penalty— but she also knew of this man, Jesus. A man who acted with divine authority, canceled sin and offered a full acquittal! Who, in such a position as she, would refuse such an offer?
This destitute recipient of mercy knew a love fueled by the deepest gratitude.
Is Your Debt Still The Greater One?
As believers, we readily identify with sinful woman weeping at Jesus’ feet. We are right to. But I wonder if in the familiarity of it all we become indifferent to the rescue and could sooner be counted among the likes of Simon.
• Might we, in our progressive holiness, feel a little less desperate for that pardon?
• Does a Simon within us rise and reluctantly recount the cost of following such a painfully unpopular King?
• Do we hesitate to proclaim gospel rescue to the ones that need it most because we’ve spiritually outclassed them?
Christ has entered our hearts to dine with us: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).
The danger is growing numb to the reality that we have been forgiven much, thereby neglecting to give Jesus the welcome of a host who loves much.
He has entered to dine with us.
• Do we honor Him with fervent love?
• Do we offer our most valuable possessions as gifts of thanksgiving?
• Do we yield our comfort, our time, our life in service to His kingdom?
Your sins are forgiven.
Your sins are forgiven.
Your sins are forgiven.