A Sinful Woman Forgiven (Luke 9:36-50)

Published on Sunday, 31 December 2017 12:16

It has often been observed how much instruction Jesus gave at mealtimes or at feasts. We can think of the meal that Matthew laid on for Jesus or the Passover meal that the disciples arranged for Jesus in the Upper Room.

The request
There are many reasons for asking a person for a meal. In New Testament times it was a sign of friendship and fellowship. Is that why the Pharisee asked Jesus to his home for a meal? Probably not, given the details that are mentioned subsequently. So why would the Pharisee have asked him? One reason could have been a desire to have a well-known person in his house because it would look good to others. A second reason could have been a desire to trap Jesus and get him to do or say something wrong. And a third reason could have been a wish to demean Jesus because the Pharisee did not offer to Jesus common courtesies connected to the comfort of a guest. Maybe he invited Jesus only out of curiosity, to find out more about him. Yet Jesus went to the man’s house because he wanted the man to understand grace.

The anointing
Suddenly an unexpected interruption took place when a woman began to anoint the feet of Jesus. There are several details that we can note about the description. First, Luke does not tell us her name. Probably he did not know what her name was, despite the fact that he, as he indicates at the start of the gospel, had made a lot of effort to verify the events that he recorded. The fact that her name is not recorded is a reminder that nobodies are welcome into the presence of Jesus.

Second, Luke describes her as a sinner. He does not mean that she was a sinner in the sense that everyone is a sinner. Instead he means that she was a great sinner, probably an immoral one. Moreover, she was a public sinner, one who would have been recognised as such by everyone in the community.

Third, Luke mentions why she came. She had heard that the Pharisee had invited Jesus for a meal, and as we suggested earlier public awareness of the invitation would have been one of the goals of the Pharisee in doing so. In a sense he had achieved his goal and his invitation was being spoken about even in the lower places of society. Nevertheless, Simon would not have expected her to come into his religious house. So the fact that she did so indicates her determination to ignore expectations.

Fourth, Luke goes into great detail about how she anointed Jesus. Luke mentions her tears, her wiping them away with her hair, her kissing of the feet of Jesus, and her anointing of his feet. Clearly it was a very emotional activity for her. Her tears were flowing. It is not clear if she had to bend down to reach the feet of Jesus because it is possible that Jesus was reclining on a raised area of the house which resulted in his feet being level with her hands.

She wanted to give something to Jesus and what she chose was an alabaster flask of ointment. Probably, the flask and its contents were kept for a special occasion because the way to get the contents was to break the flask. Her willingness to do this shows the depth of her feeling. In her eagerness to express her gratitude she forgot the outlook of society about a woman letting her hair hang down. But it is easy, and good, to ignore such limitations if they are barriers to doing something for Jesus.

The rebuke
Simon’s response was to assume that Jesus’ willingness to allow the woman to express her affection indicated that he had no idea what kind of person she was. He imagined that a true prophet of God would have nothing to do with such a woman. But he was about to discover that Jesus was indeed a prophet who knew what was taking place in Simon’s mind.

Luke wants his readers to know that Jesus can answer unspoken questions. The answer came in the form of a story about two debtors whose debt was cancelled because they were unable to pay what they owed. In responding to Jesus’ question he agreed that the one who owed most would love the moneylender most.

Who did Jesus have in mind by the one who had less sins? Probably, Simon. This is a reminder that not everyone has the same amount or kinds of sin. As far as the ten commandments are concerned, Simon may not have broken the ones that the woman had. Even if that was the case, he had committed sins here because he had done very little for Jesus. He had invited the Saviour for a meal, but he had not gone beyond the smallest requirements. Probably Simon had gone to the temple and often asked God to forgive his sins. Maybe he had even listed them, or the ones he could recognise. Perhaps he had returned from there thinking about forgiveness. But he had not connected forgiveness with Jesus and was rebuked by him.

The commendation
Jesus points out that the difference between Simon and the woman is love for Jesus. Somehow the woman had recognised that Jesus was the Saviour she needed. Although living in the shadows, she had discovered the way of grace. She had taken Jesus at his word and discovered that he could forgive her sins. There was no need for her to go to the temple, and she probably would not have been allowed in if she had tried. But she had discovered the way for all her many sins to be forgiven.

There is insight here in how Christians can learn to love the Lord and it is by thinking about their sins. Imagine taking some paper and writing your sins on it, column after column. Then beside each sin write that the Lord has forgiven you. Would it be possible to go very far in the list before your heart would burst with love for the one who made forgiveness possible?

Did this woman know how Jesus would make it possible for her to be forgiven? She recognised that it had something to do with Jesus’ coming into the world, but she did not have the details that we have. We can write beside each sin on our list that Jesus took it to Calvary and there paid the penalty for them. Like the psalmist, we can ask pardon for the sins of our youth, the sins of our hearts, the sins of our lips, the sins of forgetfulness. It takes time to get our hearts into the state of overflowing love for the Saviour.

It is clear that Jesus wanted the woman to have assurance of pardon, so he said to her that her sins were forgiven. Yet she already knew that they were forgiven because that was why she had anointed him. Surely, the words of Jesus point to the necessity of stronger assurance and fresh assurance. Sometimes we so focus on the past that we forget the value of the present. We can look back and recall occasions when we tasted the sweetness of forgiveness. The memory is always pleasant, but we should also want a fresh touch from the Lord. We get that from his Word as we meditate on it and seek his application of it to our souls.

It is also likely that Jesus wanted the woman to have public confirmation that she was forgiven. After all, many people in the area knew what kind of woman she was, but if they recognised the authority of Jesus they would rejoice in what he had just said about her. No doubt, she had sinned with many of them. But Jesus wants people to know that he pardons great sinners.

The future
Right away, onlookers began their mutterings. Their question reveals that they did not know who Jesus was, but since they did not speak to him about it we can assume that they had no real desire to find out who he was or if he could forgive them. Here they were, in the presence of the pardoning God, unable to see or understand what he was doing.

Jesus, however, continued to speak to her. The question of the onlookers questioned the ability of Jesus, and he reminded the woman of what he could provide for her. Because she had trusted in him, she had been saved from the penalty of her sins. He knew that he was yet to pay the penalty for her sins, but he also knew that he would not fail in doing so. This meant that she was eternally secure.

The Saviour informs her that she can leave the courtyard in peace. I suppose we can say that she had the peace of justification because she had become right with God in regard to her standing in his presence. And she also had the peace of assurance, that inner, overflowing sense of acceptance with God that would keep her heart and mind through whatever would come her way. We hear no more about her, but one day we will hear more from her because the habit she began when she anointed her Saviour she has done innumerable times since and is currently engaged in today, although now in a far better place than a Pharisee’s courtyard. Hopefully, Simon learned the lesson and is also engaged in that activity. And it will be a pleasure to meet in heaven one who brought pleasure to Jesus when he was here on earth.

As we close, there are three questions that we can apply to ourselves from this story. The first is, what estimate do we have of our sins? Often we compare ourselves with others and we may find others to be worse than us. Yet all that is happening is that a bankrupt person contrasts himself with another bankrupt person, when what is needed is for the debt of each person to be paid. If the bigger sinner goes to Jesus for mercy, he is wise, and if the lesser sinner goes to Jesus for mercy, he is wise.

The second question is this, ‘How do we show our love for Jesus?’ It is obvious from the account of the incident that the woman had reached the wonderful place where she did not care what people thought about her expressions of devotion to Jesus. One of the biggest hindrances for spiritual growth and the enjoyment of spiritual experiences is binding ourselves to the opinions of others. What matters is the opinion of Jesus. We cannot show love for Jesus in a miserly way. She gave him something that was of value, and so does anyone that expresses love for Christ.

The third question is, ‘Are we enjoying the peace of God?’ A sense of peace can be lost, but it is not usually lost to a person who shows love. Jesus delights to give his peace to those who honour him. That is what this woman found, and so have countless millions who have followed her example. God gives great peace to those who show great love to his Son.

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