LESSONS FROM A BROKEN HEART

Luke 7:36—50

 

The real power of this passage is derived from a verse taken from the previous paragraph:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’   (verse 34)

 

This criticism of Jesus does not stop Him from continuing to show concern for sinners.  In verse 30, Luke had drawn our attention to the self-righteous Pharisees, and so now beginning with verse 36, the skillful chronicler of Jesus’ life and ministry weaves the perfect example of both:  Pharisee and sinner.

Long before the times of Jesus, there existed a group of honorable men known as “separatists.”  They were radical in their time for they sought to preserve the holiness and essential tenets of Judaism at a time when the Jewish faith was becoming more and more secular.  The “separatists” were an honorable group, without whose efforts and dedication the Jewish faith would have disappeared from Israel all together.

However, by the era of the New Testament, the “separatists,” or the Pharisees as they had come be known, were dominated by legalism, ritualism and blind formality.   The Pharisees had come to make holiness a matter of rules and regulations than of the spirit.  The very men who should have been championing the cause of Jesus were His greatest enemies.

As our story begins, a Pharisee named Simon had invited Jesus over this his house for supper.  There is a bit of irony here that may be intentional.  They, the Pharisees, had just accused Jesus of “slumming” with disreputable characters, yet the very next moment, He is eating with a Pharisee!

1.  Tearful anointing, verses 36—38

 

This story is seen only here in the Gospels.  It is not dissimilar to the account of Jesus’ eating with Simon the leper (see Matthew 26:6—13; Mark 14:3—9; John 12:1—9), but while there may be similarities, this episode stands alone.

We don’t have a timeframe for the events of this account, but it seems to have taken place early in Jesus’ ministry.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

We are filled with questions regarding this dinner invitation.  Though at this early stage of our Lord’s work the Pharisees were increasingly wary of Him, they had not yet severed all ties with Him.  So why did Simon invite this radical rabbi to dine with him in the first place?  He may have been filled with questions like Nicodemus was before him.   Simon had heard all these stories about Jesus being a “prophet,” so maybe he wanted to see firsthand if the stories were true.  Or maybe Simon’s motives were little darker; perhaps he wanted to have an opportunity to find a basis for charging Jesus with some sort of bogus charge.

We might also be curious as to why Jesus would accept such an invitation.  Everything Jesus did, every person He spoke to, and every place He went during His ministry years were not happenstance or coincidental.  His words, His journeys, and His encounters with people were all carefully calculated to show who He was and why He was there.  Accepting this dinner invitation would have put the kibosh on any accusation that Jesus avoided Pharisees socially or that He was as wary of them as they were of Him.

Beyond his name and station in life, we know nothing about this Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

In New Testament parlance, this woman could have been a prostitute.  The phrase “sinful life” carried with it far more shameful connotations that it does today.  Of course, she may not have been a prostitute; this is merely an assumption Bible scholars make.  Her designation as “a sinner” (literal) would have been how the Pharisees saw her, not Luke.  However, we notice a remarkable thing.  Whatever she had once been she was no longer.  She came to Jesus already a changed woman.  It is reasonable to assume that Jesus ministered to and converted many more people than we have accounts for in the Gospels!  She must have heard the words of Jesus on previous occasions and she must have experienced pardon for her “sinful life.”  How else can we explain why she came to Jesus while He was dining and came carrying a jar of perfume?

Was coming to a dinner uninvited an unusual occurrence?  Was this woman a “party crasher?”  In fact, this woman took advantage of the accepted social custom of the day to come and be with Jesus.  At that time, those who were truly needy were permitted to visit such a banquet so they could be given the leftovers.  However, while that may explain why she was allowed to be there, Luke makes it clear that she did not come to receive anything from the Pharisee, but rather to give something to Jesus.

She carried with her an “alabaster jar of perfume.”  Alabaster is a type of gypsum, very fine and usually white in color.  This particular jar was probably quite beautiful, though not nearly as hard as, say, marble.  Alabaster jars or boxes of this type were generally used to hold expensive perfume.

[A]nd as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

It was customary to recline at a table across a couch in the Palestine of Jesus’ day.  His feet would have been extended in the opposite direction from the table, making it easy for this woman to come and stand them.  She came to anoint His feet with her perfume.  It may have been more common to anoint them with water or maybe olive oil, but she apparently wanted to give her best to Jesus, probably out of gratitude for what He had done for her.  Overcome with emotion, though, she had begun to cry and it was her tears that covered His feet.  Only heart completely freed from sin could have reacted so.  The anointing with perfume would have been a profound act in and of itself, but anointing Jesus with a part of herself was in indication that her whole being was dedicated to Him.

With His feet soaked in what Martin Luther referred to as “heart water,” this woman impulsively did what no woman ought to have done in public:  she loosened her hair and let fall free.  Having nothing else to wipe off her tears with, she used all that she had:  her hair.  And at the same time, her tears mingled with perfume, already dripping from the broken alabaster jar.

2.  Put in his place, verses 39—43

 

This whole display was unbelievably shameful to Simon the Pharisee.  What this woman did had greatly offended his sense of what was proper and acceptable behavior.  But what offended him more was the fact that Jesus did nothing to stop her!

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.”

 

This verse is amusing.  While Simon was musing to himself about the limitations of Jesus’ prophetic insight (he assumed Jesus was unaware that this woman was a sinner), Jesus was reading Simon’s mind and forming the correct conclusion about his character!

In fact, in the exchange that follows, Jesus zeroes in on and exposes Simon’s faulty thinking.

  • Jesus demonstrates that He does know this woman extremely well.  He knows her past history and her present condition.
  • Jesus, in what must have been an eye-opening fashion, showed that He knew exactly what was in Simon’s mind.
  • This showed that Jesus was precisely what Simon was told He was:  a prophet.  In fact, Jesus proved that He was much more than that; He was One who could look inside a person’s mind and heart and discern their inne- most thoughts and intents.
  • This whole episode showed that Jesus Christ was nothing less than divine; One sent from God who had the authority to forgive sins and the power to change lives.

When our Lord told Simon, “Simon, I have something to tell you,” Simon could not have imagined what was coming!  He probably expected some interesting words of wisdom from Jesus, who Himself had proven to be an interesting, if not somewhat radical teacher.

Jesus told Simon a parable about two people that were in debt—something most of us can relate to.  The parable is simplicity itself:

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

When Simon says, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled,” he is not only sure of his answer, but he also knows where Jesus is heading with the story.   He is condemned by his own words.

But Jesus is kind; He knew that the Pharisee “got it,” and so as if to take Simon off the hot seat, Jesus calls his attention back to the woman at His feet.  However, in doing so, Simon would be made to shamed.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

In essence, the Lord is telling Simon that he did not exercise even the most common of courtesies when Jesus came in to his home.  In other words, Simon may have been a respected religious teacher, but he had no manners!

Had Simon acted as he ought to have, HE, not the woman, would have washed Jesus’ feet as the owner of the home and host of the dinner should have.  HE, not the woman, should have greeted Jesus with a kiss.  And Simon, not the woman, should have anointed Christ’s head, at the very least with the cheapest olive oil he could find; yet he did not.  Every one of those actions was the custom of the day when one had callers, and Simon, to his shame, ignored custom when it came to Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, apparently was not worth the trouble.  Simon proved to everybody, as Jesus so adroitly pointed out in front of everybody, that he was thoughtless and virtually loveless.  Simon showed himself for what he was:  cold and patronizing.

In all three instances, Simon treated Jesus exactly opposite to the way he should have treated our Lord.  And in all three instances, this poor, lowly woman with no social standing treated Jesus above and beyond the call of custom:

  • Instead of washing Jesus’ feet with water, the woman used her tears, which indicated repentance and sorrow.
  • Instead of greeting Jesus with a kiss on His cheek, she kissed Him fervently all over His feet, which indicated humble gratitude.
  • Instead of anointing Jesus’ head with cheap and plentiful olive oil, she poured precious and personal perfume on His feet.

She went way, way beyond what was expected.  But then, why wouldn’t she?  After all, she loved Jesus with all of her heart.  He deserved no less than all she had to give.

3.  Application

 

The story ends with what the woman already knew:  she stood forgiven in God’s presence.  Nobody could have done what she did if she had not already experienced the forgiveness of her sins.

What Jesus did and said is remarkable on so many levels.  Simon was the man who regarded himself as a righteous lover of Jehovah and less sinful than others, and he considered this woman as an unforgiven sinner with no standing in society or before Jehovah.  Jesus, though, taught that it was Simon who stood unforgiven before God because of his obvious lack of love in how he treated the Son of God.

The woman’s treatment of Jesus showed two things:  (1) the great love she had for Him, and (2) a sense that she had been forgiven and her life radically changed by Jesus.  What she did, she did out of gratitude and appreciation.

Simon’s treatment of Jesus showed two things:  (1) he had no love for God for he had no knowledge of who Jesus really was, and (2) because Jesus was not part of his “circle,” he treated the Lord with contempt and dishonor.

Of Simon’s behavior, we might remark that it was to be expected.  Why would an unrepentant sinner go out of his way to make the Son of God welcome in his home?  But at the same time, we who claim to love Jesus and who have experienced His grace and mercy, must constantly be aware of how WE treat our Lord.  Sometimes, I fear, we who ought to treat Jesus as the forgiven woman did, treat Jesus worse than Simon did.  Many of us have the bad habit of giving Jesus our leftovers:  our leftover time, our leftover attention, and our leftover love.  Surely the Man who gave all for us deserves a little more than just our leftovers.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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