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If a special meal has been arranged, the host wants everything to go smoothly. How the event goes will say something about the host. If something unforeseen happens, if something or someone else becomes the focus, it could be a disaster. Such a threat arises at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner. We turn now to consider Luke 7:36-50 The wonder of grace.
1. Striking action
Such a meal would be quite a public event, with people able to walk in. A woman comes in – she very deliberately wants to meet Jesus. We gradually discover the reason. Note ‘a woman of the city, a sinner’ (v37 ESV) – it is generally assumed she was a prostitute. Certainly, she was a notorious sinner whose presence was unwelcome to respectable guests and an offence to a Pharisee. She showed courage and determination – meeting Jesus really matters. Her action is shocking. An ‘alabaster jar of perfume’ (v37) is very expensive – a really extravagant gesture. There is deep emotion – ‘weeping’. Her loose hair (v38) is not ‘respectable’. The dinner guests were probably stunned into silence, but Jesus understands. The key is v47 ‘she loved much’. Her actions are tokens of her love because ‘her many sins have been forgiven’. Jesus will focus on her actions as a forgiven sinner.
2. Stinging criticism
Simon was a pillar of the religious establishment. Perhaps he had no serious interest in Jesus’ message. His focus is the sinfulness of the woman. He puts her in a category to which he is sure he does not belong. He has no sense of his own sin. Regarding Jesus, Simon thinks, ‘If this man were a prophet’ (v39) – he does not believe Jesus is a prophet. If he were a prophet, Simon thinks, he would not associate with people like her. The Lord knows his heart. Simon has no sense of spiritual need, but is hardened in loveless self-righteousness.
3. Strong rebuke
Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts – he makes his point by telling a story of two debtors (v41). The point is clear – ‘which of them will love him more?’ (v42). Simon’s ‘I suppose’ suggests reluctance to answer. Jesus drives home the lesson regarding ‘this woman’ in a series of contrasts (v44-46). Simon’s religion was, at best, keeping rules. The key issue is ‘she loved much’ (v47). There is no evidence of love in Simon’s heart. He has not experienced grace and has no sense of need of forgiveness. Jesus exposes the emptiness of loveless religion.
4. Saving grace
We must be clear on what Jesus says. This is not a case of love earning salvation. The woman’s sin is not glossed over – ‘her sins, which are many, are forgiven’ (v47) – sin needs to be forgiven, but ‘forgiven’ is in the perfect tense (also in v48) – her sins were forgiven before she loved. Her love was proof of God’s forgiveness by grace. She wept and anointed Jesus’ feet as a forgiven sinner. Good works follow forgiveness (Ephesians 2:8). As God, Jesus forgives and the crowd wonders (v49). ‘Your faith [God-given] has saved you’ (v50).