One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven. For she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Lk. 7:36-50)
Let us pray: “These are your words heavenly Father, sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.”
This woman was a sinner, a public one. She had ruined her life and her reputation. She’d so spoilt her body with shame that no respectable man would touch her. And she knew it. She knew her sin, she felt the filth, she was totally broken and crushed. But she wasn’t simply crushed and ashamed before people – the embarrassment of people knowing the nasty things she’d done. No, she was ashamed and terrified before God. God gave her the body she had dirtied. God gave it to her for good, because He is gracious and kind, and she had used it for evil. And God had seen it, and more, He saw the sick pleasure she took in living for herself. And she knew, because her conscience screamed it and because God’s law thunders it, that God was angry with her, that she stood before Him condemned, deserving only His punishment. She was crushed and so she learned what only the Christian learns, that whatever the shame I might feel before men, before this world, as they judge me, this is nothing, it’s not worth mentioning, in comparison with the judgment of God who sees my heart and everything I’ve done not just in public but in secret. So this broken woman cares nothing about Simon’s judgment. Cares nothing about how untoward, even illegal, it might be to enter this man’s house, cares nothing about any judgment from any man as she crawls to Jesus’ side, weeping and showering his feet with her tears. Here she is making a public spectacle of herself and she doesn’t care what the public thinks. She cares only what God thinks, only what Jesus thinks.
She comes to the very God she’s offended, and she comes humbly, on hands and knees, and broken, with a contrite heart. But she’s confident, because she knows Jesus won’t despise her. This woman whom no respectable man would touch, she reaches out and touches God. And she knows exactly what she’s doing. She weeps, but it’s not simply in mourning, not simply in fear, but in the kind of relief only a Christian can feel when by faith we embrace our Savior and find in Him total and unqualified compassion. I don’t know how she heard of Jesus, because Luke never tells us, but it doesn’t matter, she heard Him. And she knew His character. She knew what God had become man to do. To lay down His life for sinners. To have mercy on sinners. So she knew there was no sin so great, so shameful that he wouldn’t forgive, no life so broken and ruined He wouldn’t remake, no soul so stained and dirtied that he wouldn’t wash it clean. This is what He had come to do. Why God was there before her in human flesh. And her tears, which are so profuse that they wash Jesus’ feet, her tears flow from the Christian joy and relief and thanks and love for this Jesus who receives sinners and covers their shame and reconciles them with God and gives them peace and rescues them from a life of sin.
This woman thinks everything of Jesus. He is her life. Without Him she has nothing. With Him everything. The Pharisee, this gentleman, Simon is his name, he doesn’t think much of Jesus. He has his own life. He’s invited Jesus into it for a while, for a Sunday maybe, a dinner, but he shows no thanks to him, no love. He didn’t wash his feet, didn’t kiss him and embrace him in joy and gratefulness, didn’t anoint his body with perfume. Why should he? What has Jesus given him? What does he need from Jesus? He’s got a good life. So it goes with the proud. With those who don’t see their need, those who are blind to their sin and so bored by the Gospel or offended by it or find it irrelevant, because they have everything they want already in this life, in this world.
The woman loved much, because she was forgiven much. If you are forgiven little, if you owe me ten dollars because I paid your parking ticket, and I say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine, it’s on me,” you’ll be thankful, but it’s really not a big deal. If I bail you out of prison and pay all your debts and take you from the streets and put you in a nice home with nice clothes and plenty to eat and find you a good job, if I give you a new life, well then you’ll be thankful, then you’ll call me your benefactor, you’ll talk about me and how kind I am to anyone who’ll listen, then I might get a hug or tears of appreciation and joy. But not for a parking ticket.
If you think that your sins are slight and if you live that way, as if looking at filth on the internet were a light thing, something God turns a blind eye to, as if gossiping about your enemies were a mere misdemeanor, as if holding grudges and refusing to forgive were minor faults, as if the pride of your heart and the greed of your flesh can be ignored, then not only will you feel no great need for Jesus, but the forgiveness you hear here at church will mean nothing to you in the end, it won’t touch your heart, it won’t change your life, it won’t spur you on to fight against your sin, you won’t be thankful, because you won’t ever have realized how much your God has done for you and what is the worth and the treasure and the pleasure of having His mercy. But if you know your sin, live life aware of it because you’re fighting against it and yet the pride wells up still and the lust and the anger and the greed, and no matter what you do you know you won’t be rid of it till you die and shed this body of death, then the words of Jesus’ forgiveness mean everything, the blood He shed is precious beyond compare, His love and compassion, His suffering and death for you, His resurrection, His body and blood given to you, these are your joy and what your spirit thirsts for.
It’s Jesus’ way to humor the Pharisees and pretend that the Pharisees don’t have much to forgive. So when the Pharisees complain that Jesus receives sinners, Jesus tells them he came to call not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. And when this Pharisee, Simon, is offended at Jesus’ kind treatment of this sinful woman, Jesus says, “He who is forgiven little, loves little,” as if Simon actually only needed to be forgiven a little bit. But this is always tongue in cheek. Jesus in other places saves his most righteous anger and rebuke against the arrogance of the proud, against this pride that imagines I only need a little forgiveness or I have something in myself that impresses God, or that goes on with life day by day without thinking of how much God has spent to give us life. The point is not that Simon needs Jesus less, or that anyone for that matter needs Jesus less, no matter how upstanding our lives look on the outside or how much progress we’re making in sanctification even in the inside. The point is that this sinful woman saw her need and Simon didn’t, because the woman had been crushed and broken by God’s law and Simon hadn’t. He was proud. Pride comes before destruction. It makes us blind to our own sin, pride covers up pride and refuses to admit it as the root of all other sin, and pride won’t acknowledge our own need.
God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So the Christian heart learns humility. We live life before God. And God sees the heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. There is no boasting, no acting like we have everything together, no acting at all, when we stand before God. This is why, when Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, He says the Pharisee prays to himself – our translation says “by himself” but it’s literally “to himself” – he’s praying to himself. Because he can fool himself, but he can’t fool God. There’s no boasting to God. He won’t hear it. He’s not interested. You’re a sinner. This is what the tax collector knew, he knew his selfish heart, of course he did, because he saw its fruits – the guy had cheated people of money, hurt families, made children go without supper because he stole their dad’s hard-earned income. And now he’s come to the awful realization that he has acted wickedly and he is accountable to God Almighty for his sin, and that there is nothing he can offer to God in return. And this is where all of us are. Not that we’re public sinners, but that we stand before God, and whether people know our sins or not is irrelevant when we stand before God, because He knows. The sinful woman didn’t care what people thought; the tax collector wasn’t worried about it, he stood in a corner; they’re worried about what God thinks. And that’s why the prayer of the tax collector must be our prayer; it’s the prayer that God loves and that God answers, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” He went home justified, declared righteous and good and forgiven of every sin. And the sinful woman went home in peace, having heard from Jesus’ own lips, “Your sins are forgiven.” To them this meant everything. Because they had no other righteousness, no other boast. Nothing else but what came from Jesus.
And then look at the love that comes. The woman gives her everything to Jesus. Her pride, her tears; her dignity, wiping his feet with her hair; her treasure, pouring out expensive ointment on Him; her affection, never ceasing to kiss his feet. And this is her confession of what she has received from Jesus. Jesus gave her life again, gave her standing before God, made her pure again, cleansed her conscience, loved her when she deserved the opposite. So she now will live for him. She’ll fight her sins. She’ll use her treasures not simply for her own selfish pleasure but for Jesus and His Kingdom. She’ll strive to be humble and to think not what pleases the world but what pleases her Lord. And she’ll rejoice constantly in the words He gives, never take them for granted, but treasure them in her heart and come to hear them again and again, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This is the Christian life. The Christian life, I want to stress, is not, NOT, the life the woman or the tax collector lived before they repented. It’s the life they lived after they repented. Neither one went back to open sinning. Christians can’t do that and keep the faith. When they were living life for themselves and openly and constantly defying God’s commandments, they were lost. It’s one thing to fall into sin by weakness and in the moment. That happens daily to all of us. It’s another thing to live in sin and practice it. That’s not the Christian life. Living with a boyfriend or girlfriend outside marriage. Holding constant grudges and refusing to reconcile. Constantly looking up filth on the internet. Openly defying the 3rd commandment by never coming to church. Embracing sin and simply making it purposefully a regular part of your life. That’s a life that angers God and will end in hell. It’s no life at all. It’s death masking as life. And that life ends, it’s buried, when sinners confess their sin and realize its weight, its seriousness, its collusion with the devil, its offense against God, and broken and crushed they come to Jesus who promises mercy. And he gives it. He gives it richly and freely because He died to give it. And more He gives His Holy Spirit and with Him a thankfulness and joy and love for Him, a zeal to fight against sin every day with all other Christians.
The Christian life is not a life without sin, but it is a life forgiven of sin, of grievous sin, and so very grateful for it. Because Jesus gives us new life, real life, life lived before God and not for ourselves or to impress this world. The words He speaks to us, “Your sins are forgiven; Go in peace,” these are not cheap, ineffective words. They do what they say. They erase sin and guilt and slay death. They give life, Jesus’ life, the resurrected life. Because they are spoken by the Lord of life who passed through our death and paid sins’ wages to the full by His suffering, and now lives with our sin and our death and our accuser conquered under His feet. So we join with this woman in our Gospel, our sister in Christ, to give ourselves to Jesus, our dignity, our affection, our treasure, not to care at all what the world thinks about us, what its standards are, what it finds impressive, but to fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, to care what He says, to live our life by it, to brag not about ourselves but about our Lord, to fight against sin in our life and to come humbly and boldly before the throne of grace to receive from Jesus’ hand in His body and blood double for all our sin and strength to love Him and adore Him and serve Him in thankfulness and praise, always eager to hear His word, which gives us life now and forever. Amen.