Christian Living

Loving Jesus exposes our hearts

No matter how many times I read Luke’s Gospel, it always impacts me. This is because we meet Jesus as he meets with different people. Although it is a little hard to choose, I think my favourite encounter is Jesus’ interaction with the woman who was a sinner from Luke 7:36-50. There is so much to unpack in this story, but let me share with you just three things that struck me.

No running away from sin

Neither Jesus’ words nor Luke’s recounting seem to run away from the reality of sin. In verse 37, Luke’s description of the woman makes it clear she lived a sinful life. This would likely mean she had a reputation – everyone in a small town knows everything that anyone else does! In verse 38, the woman’s extreme action of wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears as she wept likely betrayed her past shame. The Pharisee in verse 39 then makes it clear that this woman isn’t just a sinner, but a sinner in a way that he is clearly not. There was something bad about this woman, so that if Jesus were really a prophet he would have known what kind of woman she was, and by implication, not let her get close to him. And then in verse 47, Jesus’ words confirm that she indeed had many sins – sins that had been forgiven.

This account does not run away from the fact that this woman was sinful. There is no cover-up. She is not viewed simply as a victim of her upbringing and a product of her past – true as that may have been. She is viewed as one who has rebelled against God, deserved punishment, and needed forgiveness. That is how Jesus assesses the situation. In our world where it seems like we can easily default to blaming society, or the structures that have oppressed us, or some particularly powerful and privileged people, Luke makes clear that this woman has sinned. In other words, it’s not a case of the snake made me do it, but rather a case of admitting sinfulness, coming to our Lord Jesus, and seeking repentance. Counterintuitive as it might seem, this is profoundly freeing. Blaming the world leads to bitterness, sadness, and hopelessness. Coming to Jesus with the reality of our sinfulness and our rebellion leads to peace, forgiveness, and hope.

Private and public sins need forgiveness all the same

By the middle of this interaction, the Pharisee is named: Simon. This switches the attention of the reader to look more closely at Simon. He had wanted to challenge whether the woman was forgivable or not. However, Luke is surprisingly silent about the details of the woman’s sin, most likely because it doesn’t matter. That is, once you admit you are in the category of ‘sinner’, then as far as Jesus is concerned, what you did is less important than who you turn to for forgiveness. What really matters is coming close to someone who can do something about your sin problem. And Jesus’ response to the woman’s approach shows the kind of reception we sinners can expect from him, no matter what we’ve done.

The very short parable in verses 40-42 then exposes the more private sins of Simon the Pharisee. Simon invited Jesus into his house, but he wasn’t really prepared to be in a relationship with Jesus. He didn’t do all the things that were customary in Middle Eastern hospitality. By contrast, the woman does these things in abundance. Simon didn’t give water for Jesus’ feet, but she wet his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Simon didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss; she hasn’t stopped kissing Jesus. Simon didn’t pour oil on Jesus’ head, yet the woman poured perfume on Jesus’ feet.

The woman knows who Jesus really is, and it is clear from her actions that she is aware of how much she has been forgiven. Simon didn’t love Jesus and didn’t think he needed forgiveness. The truth is that Simon failed to understand the debt he owed. He was subject to the mercy of the moneylender. Yes, his sins weren’t as public as hers. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is her response compared with his. He failed to see that he, too, was an object of wrath by his very nature (cf. Eph 2:3).

Salvation doesn’t hang on the love of the woman

In the end, the focus is not on the woman and how much she had been forgiven, or on Simon and his unwillingness to admit that he too was a sinner. The focus is on Jesus. The other guests make that abundantly obvious to us when they speak for the first time in verse 49 about who Jesus is that he can even forgive sins. Jesus is more than just a prophet or a teacher (which Simon was limiting him to). Only God can forgive sins, so it really does make us wrestle with who Jesus really, truly is. Not just a prophet, not just a good teacher – but God.

Yet Jesus will not let the salvation of this woman hang on whether or not she loves him. Verse 50 shows us that it is not the woman’s love that has saved her, but it is Jesus who saves by bringing about forgiveness. What was required of her was faith, that she trusts Jesus – the one who brings salvation and forgiveness. She loved him because she was forgiven; her love was a response to forgiveness. She was forgiven by Jesus, the one with the authority to forgive her. Her faith was so significant, so life-changing. Her trust in Jesus, and Jesus’ declaration that she was forgiven, meant that she left the Pharisee’s house knowing that she was right with God. It is astonishing.

This is huge because even if everyone else couldn’t understand it, or didn’t acknowledge it, or hated her for being a dirty sinner, Jesus had wiped her debt and she could call God her Father. At the end of the day, there is only one opinion that matters – the opinion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe the world hates you and condemns you because of your past sins. But if we come to Jesus acknowledging we are rebels and asking for forgiveness, the Bible is very clear: God’s answer is always yes, you are forgiven.

Jesus really is that good. That is the Jesus we meet in the pages of the Bible. And that is the Jesus worth coming close to and trusting with all of life.