One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the 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 the 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; 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 from the time I came in 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 are 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 with him 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.”
(Luke 7:36-50 ESV)
Quick! Someone call The National Enquirer.
This story has two major characters. Let’s take care of the woman first. This is no mere prostitute, if in fact that is what her sin was. But we don’t know that’s what sort of woman she was. What we do know about her is that she was no mere sinner. She was the stuff of tabloid journalism. Everyone knew she was a sinner. She also must have been wealthy. She was in possession of an alabaster flask of ointment. That means she had some ability to purchase such things and own them.
Then there is Simon the Pharisee. He was well connected, and probably also was fairly well off financially. His reputation was built on his ability to quote you chapter and verse about how to live right before God.
Whoever they were, it was as if the Mayflower Madame wandered into a dinner party hosted by this fellow who graduated top of his class at Princeton. Not a single person said, “What is SHE doing here?” The reason is that her connections and her face were her ticket in.
Of course, even though she could waltz right into the dinner party, that didn’t stop Simon from judging her a little in his heart.
The thing that is easy to miss about what happens next is that Jesus really isn’t saying anything we don’t already know about either the woman or the Pharisee. She did love much because she was forgiven much. And Simon really did love Jesus just a little. He may not have kissed Jesus’ feet, but he did invite him to a really nifty dinner party (black tie optional).
The story turns out to be about judging, forgiveness, and having a good time. Where you place yourself in the story, whether you see yourself more as the host at the party or as the woman, I think you’ll see that everyone was having a good time except Simon. He spent the whole dinner party caught up in the politics of notoriety. The woman was having an overwhelming experience of being with Jesus. Jesus was having a blast. He was getting a foot massage of the highest quality and experiencing fully the love this woman wanted to shower on him. I suspect that even the other guests were reveling in the moment. Not Simon.
I was at a wedding this weekend. Had an awesome time. After dinner they had an absolutely phenomenal jazz quintet that played 20s and 30s dance music for a couple of hours. I brought a chair out and parked it where I’d be able to watch the action. At one point my son and his wife tried to goad me into finding Jama and getting her to dance with me. I wasn’t buying. There was this couple I had been watching who were dressed outlandishly and who were dancing even more outlandishly. I wasn’t going to make a similar kind of fool out of myself. I wasn’t going to dance with that sort of person on the floor.
Tim and his wife Alice danced and even took our grandson River for a turn on the floor. I sat out. I had a good time, mind you. But I sat out the dancing and missed a kind of joy I might have experienced. Late in the evening I walked past the man from the outlandish couple I had been secretly judging all evening. He put his hand on my arm for one moment and looked at me in complete sincerity and said, “That was a great message you gave at the wedding. Thank you.” That’s when I realized I should have danced.