As we’ve been studying Jesus’ encounters with different women in the gospels, I can’t help but notice that we miss so much because our culture is worlds apart from their culture. All the legalism of their man-made rules, all the stigma surrounding women in the 1st century, all the no-no’s both in religious and civic life. It makes my head spin just thinking about the issues they faced that I never even have to worry about today.
We learned about the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She had three strikes against her. 1. She was a woman. 2. She was a Samaritan. 3. She was a sinner! And yet Jesus stops by this well where she had strategically planned to be during the heat of day (when no one else would be there). He asks for a drink and ends up weaving together the most beautiful conversation with this woman to reach her heart. With neither condemnation nor judgment, He gets to the heart of her spiritual thirst. And He pours her a tall glass of Living Water by the end of their exchange.
Then we read about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Frankly, I think the story is as much about her as it is about the Pharisee with whom Jesus had been invited to dine. We tend to see this story with our 21st century eyes and stare aghast at Simon, the Pharisee, who seems to be quite judgmental of this woman. “If this man were really a prophet he would know what sort of a woman this was who was touching him,” he says to himself. “Wow, how rude!”, we think to ourselves.
But what does Jesus do? First of all, He let this woman touch Him. Don’t miss the scandal in this! She was a well-known sinner! She was called an “immoral woman” in some translations. We assume this means she was sexually promiscuous. Sinner=Unclean. If an unclean person touches you, in that culture, that means YOU become unclean. And these Jewish people took their ritual cleanliness seriously! They didn’t risk becoming unclean for just any reason, and especially not for a SINNER. Like I said, they had their man-made rules, in addition to the Law, which were far more strict (and not at all necessary!) that they followed to avoid becoming unclean.
Jesus, however, risks being religiously (politically) correct to give this woman His forgiveness. To give her dignity. He saw past her reputation, and although He was the only One who could have judged her, who could have condemned her, He speaks the words she had been dying inside to hear, “You are forgiven. Go in peace.”
We see this extreme demonstration of love and forgiveness for a sinful woman, one who receives grace because that’s how Jesus responds to sin. [That and dying for it.] But we don’t always see the other story playing alongside the woman’s redemption story. When Jesus either hears or perceives Simon’s comment about the woman, He starts in with a parable of a moneylender. There were two debtors. TWO of them. One owed 500 denarii and the other owed 50. TWO of them had debt. The moneylender forgave BOTH of them of their debt because NEITHER of them could pay it off. TWO debtors. Two UNABLE to pay back their debt. [Forgive my obnoxious all caps. Emphasis soon to be made clear…] Jesus asks the Pharisee who of the two debtors loved the moneylender more. He doesn’t go into why they had piled up so much debt or ask who is more deserving of the forgiveness. Nope. He asks about love.
And why? Why does He make the moral of the story about love? He looks at the woman and speaks to Simon, revealing to him that her act of anointing His feet, in addition to the tears and wiping His dusty toes, is a greater example of love for Him than Simon’s hospitality toward Him. She had been forgiven much, so she loved much. It just makes sense.
But what is even more baffling to me is how Jesus chose to respond to the hypocritical and self-righteous attitude which Simon displayed on that day in his home. Just as Jesus did not condemn the sinful woman, neither does He condemn the Pharisee in his holier-than-thou approach toward the woman. Simon was the debtor! The one who owed 50 denarii. The one with the lesser debt, but still a DEBTOR nonetheless! Simon couldn’t pay his debt any more than the sinful woman could. All of us are sinners. Not one of us can pay the debt we owe to God. Even the most righteous of Pharisees needed the forgiveness of the only Righteous Judge. Yet the Pharisee could not love the way the greater debtor did. But Jesus treated him with dignity and helped him to see that God’s forgiveness is for all people. There is grace for the sinner, and there is grace for the self-righteous Pharisee.
That Jesus. I love Him.
We are hopelessly lost in our sin whether we owe 50 or 500. Debt is debt. Our inability to pay up means we have need of a forgiving God. May we never forget. And may we see ourselves as the sinful woman because we realize we’ve been forgiven much.