Love, Tears, and Forgiveness
Jesus loved to eat with others. He ate with His disciples (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:15). He ate with His friends (Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1, 2). He ate with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:29, 30). He even ate with Pharisees (Luke 11:37-54; 14:1-6). As far as we know, Christ never turned down an invitation to dinner. Luke 7:36-50 tells about the first time Jesus was invited to eat with a Pharisee. A surprising turn of events gave rise to one of Jesus’ most touching messages on love and forgiveness.
A Remarkable Request (Luke 7:36a)
The Pharisee’s name was Simon (Luke 7:40, 43, 44). Simon invited Jesus (Luke 7:39) again and again until He accepted the invitation.
An Inhospitable individual (Luke 7:36b, 44-46)
We learn later that much happened (or, rather, did not happen) between Jesus’ entering the house and His reclining at the table. In those days, social customs and circumstances dictated that certain courtesies be extended to a guest who entered a home. First, the host gave the visitor a kiss of welcome (Mat. 26:49; Acts 20:37; Rom. 16:16). Ordinarily, this was a kiss on the cheek. Then someone provided a basin of water and a towel so that the visitor might wash his feet (John 13:4, 5; 1 Tim. 5:10). The ritual provided comfort for the visitor and also protected the rugs and cushions in the home of the host. A third courtesy, though not as common, was often extended to an honored guest: the provision of oil or ointment for the head and/or face (Psalm 45:7; Eccl. 9:8; Amos 6:6). If the visitor had spent hours under the grueling sun, this expression of kindness was both welcome and refreshing. When Jesus arrived at Simon’s house, not one of these amenities was extended to him. He later told His host in Luke 7:44-46, “I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet…You gave Me no kiss…You did not anoint My head with oil…” There is no indication that the other guests (Luke 7:49) were also neglected. The words “Me” and “My” in verse 44 through 46 imply that only Christ received this triple insult.
A Weeping Woman (Luke 7:36-39, 44-46)
This woman is called “A sinner.” Jesus said that her sins were “many” (Luke 7:47). Whatever her sins, they were well-known; she had a bad reputation (Luke 7:39). Her sins were of such a nature that they had made her notorious.
This notorious sinner knew who Jesus was and that her life had been turned around by Him. Jesus’ parable of the two debtors teaches that one who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). Since the woman expressed her love for Jesus from the moment she entered the room, she must have been forgiven prior to entering the room. Her strong desire to see Jesus, the tears she shed (Luke 7:37, 38) – these are evidence of the powerful emotions filling this woman’s heart. Try to understand her hopelessness before she learned of Christ: the dread of each new day, her aversion to others, the self-loathing. Then she had heard Jesus, and the light of truth had driven away the darkness in her mind. Faith (Luke 7:50) had replaced skepticism; godly sorrow (Luke 7:38) had replaced the sorrow of the world (2 Cor. 7:10). Her life had been changed. She apparently lacked one thing: an opportunity to express her appreciation. When she stood close to her Savior, her emotions overflowed and her tears fell like rain. She unbound her hair and began wiping at the muddied spots with her tresses. Then she began to kiss His feet. She kissed those rugged feet again and again (v. 45). Finally, she picked up her flask, opened it, and began pouring perfumed oil.
A Simple Story (Luke 7:40-50)
Knowing His host’s thoughts, “Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you” (Lk. 7:40). Jesus then told a simple little story, “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 "And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both” (Lk. 7:41, 42). A denarius was a day’s wages for a common laborer (Matt. 20:2). Thus one debtor owed almost two months’ wages to a moneylender, while the other owed everything he could make in almost two years. Matthew 28:13-35 tells of men being thrown into prison and tortured because they could not pay their debts. Jesus’ simple story therefore took an unexpected turn when He said that the moneylender forgave the debts of the two men. Then Jesus turned to Simon and asked, “So which of them [the two forgiven debtors] will love him [the forgiving moneylender] more” (Lk. 7:42). Simon answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more” (Lk. 7:43). Jesus said to him, “You have judged correctly” (Lk. 7:43). Simon had announced a judgment – a judgment on himself. His own words would convict him. Turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, Jesus continued, “…Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 "You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 "You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil” (Lk. 7:44-46). Jesus then applied the story He told, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (Lk. 7:47). The specific amounts mentioned in the parable are, of course, unimportant. What is significant is that both debtors were “unable to repay” (Luke 7:42). All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:23), and none of us can do enough good works to offset this debt of sin (Rom. 6:23a). Each of us stands empty-handed in the presence of the One who has given us so much. What hope do we have? Our only hope is in the graciousness of the Lord. The apostle Paul said, “Grace, mercy, and peace” is “from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:2).
Jesus and the Woman (Luke 7:48-50)
How did Jesus’ host respond to His accusations? There is no record of any response. Christ then spoke directly to the woman for the first time, “Your sins have been forgiven” (Lk. 7:48). He did not say, “Your sins are forgiven,” but “Your sins have been forgiven.” Her sins had been forgiven in the past, but Jesus assured her of that forgiveness.
Love is an important part of our attaining forgiveness (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3), but the emphasis in this story is that an appreciation of being forgiven will produce love: He who is aware of being forgiven much loves much, “but he who is forgiven little loves little” (Lk. 7:47). When Jesus told the woman her sins had been forgiven, the other guests murmured, “Who is this man who even forgives sins” (Lk. 7:49)? In their minds, forgiving sins was God’s prerogative alone, and Jesus once again claimed equality with God (Mark 2:5-12).
Ignoring the others, Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Lk. 7:50). Peace of heart and mind had been missing from her life in the past, but now she was given a fresh start (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 5:1).
Lesson On Love
Did Jesus’ rebuke have any effect on Simon? Did the woman live a godly life from that moment on? The Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosity; neither was this story written to condemn or commend the original participants. Rather it was recorded to cause us to examine our own hearts and lives. Let us ask ourselves the following questions: “Am I aware of the enormity of sin?” “Am I aware of the wonder of being forgiven of my sins?” “Having been forgiven much, do I love much?” “Has my love found expression?” Let each of us pray, “Help me show my love, O Lord!”