At the morning service I preached on Luke 7:36-50, in which Luke describes for us a scene of extraordinary pathos: a woman, a notorious sinner, displays the depths of her affection and adoration for Jesus. Her unbounded love for her Savior is an example for every Christian, and a standard against which our own love for Jesus can seem so paltry.
A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to his home for a meal, not because he had some malicious agenda but because it was customary for a religious leader like Simon to host other rabbis or teachers at his home for a meal and theological discussion. In fact, such an occasion was often treated like a public event. The doors of the home were opened for other interested people to attend and listen in on the conversation.
One woman came to see Jesus, but not as a passive observer. Rather, she came to show Jesus the depths of her love for him. During the meal, as the Lord and other guests were reclining at the table, the woman approached Jesus and began to kiss his feet, to wet them with her tears and wipe them with her hair, and to anoint them with ointment.
This was a pure and uninhibited display of love and affection. The woman was pouring her heart out before the man whom she knew was her Lord and Savior. Picture her sobbing as she ministered to his feet, her soul bursting with the inexpressible joy of knowing she was loved and forgiven by this holy man.
The poignancy of this woman’s devotion was entirely lost on Simon. No doubt he was embarrassed by such an uncontrolled display of emotion before his respectable guests. But more than that, he was scandalized. Didn’t Jesus know what sort of woman this was who was touching him? Everybody in town knows this woman – she’s a sinner! (A prostitute perhaps?, or an adulteress? – Luke’s discretion on this point is noble). How can Jesus be a prophet if he allows himself to be sullied by this unrighteous woman?
Of course Jesus knew full well who this woman was. And he used her display of affection to teach Simon (and us!) a lesson about what it means to love the Lord. Simon did not offer Jesus water to wash his feet, nor did he welcome him with a kiss or anoint his head with oil. He was civil enough, but his “love” for Jesus was tepid. He loved little.
But the woman loved him much. And why? Because she was forgiven much. She knew that as great as her sin was, the mercy of Christ was greater. She knew that through this man God had pardoned her iniquity. And so how could she not weep tears of joy at the feet of her Savior and show him how much she loved him?
If we measure our own love for Jesus by the love of this woman, how lukewarm our own affection appears! Too often we are more like Simon, polite towards Jesus but wholly lacking in warmth and heart-felt devotion.
We forget that we have been forgiven much. We flatter ourselves by thinking our own sins are mere peccadillos, trivial matters compared to the truly heinous sins of others. But no sin, and none of our sin, is small or trifling in God’s sight. Any offense against a holy God, no matter how petty relative to other sin, is worthy of condemnation – eternal condemnation! God is infinitely righteous and therefore any sin against him demands an infinite judgment.
But God is also love. And his love is greater than we have even begun to imagine. You are forgiven not because of the smallness of your sin, but because of the greatness of the mercy and grace of God. The Son of God died for you, in your place. What love! And so you have been loved much, and forgiven much.
The more you absorb this truth into your heart, the more you will love Christ in return. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The real message of this passage is not so much the woman’s love for Jesus, but the love of Jesus for this woman.
Soli Deo Gloria!