SCRIPTURE: ST. LUKE 7:36-50
36And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
37And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
TITLE: KNEELING AT THE FEET OF JESUS
This is one of the most powerful love stories recorded in the Bible. I know that many feel that Solomon’s writing found in the Old Testament is considered to be about true love that makes the hair stand-up on the Nap of your Neck. But, this narrative read in our text for examination calls into question our love for the Savior. This is a love story, pure and simple. It is not a cheap love story like we see portrayed in the soap operas everyday. This account is a deep heart-felt love that is not infused with any physical desire that seems to be necessary in our day and age to qualify as a love story. However, this account is not a Romance but it is very much a love story. This passage in the Gospel of Luke is oftentimes confused with a similar account of another woman who had anointed Jesus. If we are to fully appreciate this event we must insure it is not confused and conflated with the other account. Let’s spend a brief moment in an effort to disentangle it from the event when Jesus was anointed at Bethany near the end of his ministry – St. Matthew 26:6-13 / St. Mark 14:1-11 / St. John 12:1-10. The two events are confused easily enough because of several similarities:
• Jesus is anointed with expensive perfume
• He is anointed by a woman
• The anointing takes place in the house of a man named Simon
The differences between the two events show that our passage for examination this morning is really a different incident from that found in St. Matthew - St. mark - St. John. The anointing at Bethany during the end of Jesus earthly ministry differs in that:
• It takes place at the home of Simon the Leper, not Simon the Pharisee
• The woman doing the anointing at Bethany is not spoken of as sinful, but actually appears to be Mary, the sister of Lazarus
• The meaning of the anointing at Bethany is to prefigure Jesus’ burial
• The anointing is on the head (Matthew and Mark) -- and the feet (John)
• The criticism is by disciples, especially Judas, over the value of the perfume that is "wasted," rather than as the a criticism of the morals of the woman doing the anointing
There are three principle characters in this Narrative, all of which are relevant to us. The Lord Jesus is, of course, the main figure of the narrative. He, unlike the others, deals with a woman with love and forgiveness. The woman, who is never named, is the recipient of our Lord’s forgiveness. She represents the “sinners” who are strangely attracted to Jesus. The host, Simon, which was a common name back then, just like Smith – Jones - Johnson – are common names today – he was a Pharisee, and as such he represents at least the perception which many “sinners” have of the church and or Christians. It is from these characters and their relationship with each other that the message of our narrative is to be found.
We read in the text that one of the Pharisees invites Jesus to his home for dinner. Invitation to dinner certainly implied respect for this new teacher and healer that has appeared on the scene. Yet, there seems to be some tension between Jesus and this Pharisee; nevertheless, the setting is a formal dinner, which provides a proper, refined atmosphere for the discussion of deep and difficult topics. There were many questions surrounding this new Rabbi. No doubt a great part of Simon’s motivation was to “check out” Jesus.
• Was this man really a prophet?
• Was His message to be believed?
• And how did His message compare with that of the Pharisees?
• Was He a threat, or an ally?
• Just who did Jesus claim to be and what was to be done about Him?
• Should He be resisted, opposed, put to death, or should he be ignored?
• Could He be recruited to their side?
• These may have been some of the questions in Simon’s mind, suggesting some of his motivation for having Jesus over to dinner.
Simon wanted to learn more about Jesus, but it soon becomes obvious that you can’t count Simon as a believer – he appears to be a skeptic trying his best to be open-minded. Simon made his intentions known although it was certainly an honor to host the visiting teacher and his party. Simon wanted the honor of hosting this now famous Rabbi. We can make some presumptions about this host, firstly, he was well to do -- most of the Pharisees seemed to be, and this scale of dinner party required a larger home and money for food that the average person did not have the resources to do. Hospitality is a very strong value in the Near East, with much fuss made over guests. For example, a basin would typically be provided so guests could wash the dust of the road from their feet. Scented olive oil was sometimes offered to anoint a guest’s hair. And beloved guests would be kissed as they were greeted. It is important to note that Simon offered none of these marks of a gracious host. Such overflowing hospitality wasn’t viewed as a requirement; Simon wasn’t being discourteous. The way he welcomed his guests this day seems pro forma, but not especially warm or cordial.
No matter the warmth or lack of it, Jesus accepts the dinner invitation. He is not there very long before he is criticized for dining with sinners. I don’t know about you but I am glad this morning that Jesus is not a respecter of persons. Not only did Jesus associate with the religious leaders but he also associated with those that had some issues in their lives. I am glad that Jesus concerns himself with:
• The Downtrodden
• Those with Issues in their lives
• Those fall into Sin
• The Least of us
• Those that have made some mistakes and still make mistakes along the way
Here is Jesus at a dinner party and we don’t know how this woman shows up, but I imagine when she as others heard that Jesus was in town, she too made her way. Jesus had that affect on people, especially sinners. Isn’t that right – you remember Zacchaeus don’t you – heard Jesus was in town and ran down the road and climbed into a Sycamore tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus. More often, sinners were shunned by respectable society and prohibited from participation in the local synagogue. Therefore, not welcomed at Pharisees house - We don’t know how she came to be referred to as a sinner.
• Perhaps she had been abused as a child and now carries that weight
• Perhaps she’s grown up an illegitimate child with no prospects for marriage
• Perhaps she is a widow struggling to survive
• We just can’t say, and should know better than to judge her harshly
There’s something else we can deduce about this woman -- that she has been battered down. Her self-image is tattered and ragged. She is perhaps the continual object of cutting criticism in insults by the wives of her customers. She has been spat upon. She is the example many mothers in town use to warn their daughters. She is brunt of nasty jokes. She is shunned by the best people and used and abused by the worst.
• Inwardly, she is broken and bleeding
• Her spirit is wounded
• Perhaps you’ve felt like that; perhaps you feel like that right now
• You’ve failed miserably, and though time has passed, you still are humiliated and unsure
• Feel too weak and fragile to pick yourself up and move on.
For this woman to come to the banquet at Simon the Pharisee’s house is difficult for her. She is viewed as a sinner, one who conveys uncleanness by her very touch, almost as if she has a communicable disease. She knows that Simon will not be happy to see her in his house.
• But the sinful woman has heard of Jesus
• She has probably heard his teaching
• She has heard his gracious words of God’s love and forgiveness and healing and restoration
• She has heard him speak of his Father’s Kingdom in words so plain and compelling that she can see herself as a child of God once more, a full citizen in this Kingdom of Love
• Yes, she is still broken, but now she can see light and hope beyond the tunnel
Early in the meal there is no focus on the woman. Simon may feel uncomfortable about her being there, but he does not exclude her from his home. That would have caused an ugly scene. So he allows her to remain. But the focus is clearly on Jesus and his words as he partakes of the meal. The woman is standing behind Jesus, and early into the meal while they are yet conversing she begins to weep. I don’t think she intended to. I don’t believe it was part of her plans. But I think there was something about being this close to Jesus that simply overwhelmed her. The woman was not in any pain as was the woman with issue of blood for 12 years who pressed her way and also found herself, kneeling at the feet of Jesus. This woman at the dinner party was not in any kind of distress that caused tears to well up and flow from her eyes. I searched the scriptures in an effort to understand why she was crying. I did not find the answer in the Word, but I found it in my own Soul.
• Every now and then when I listen to the Preaching, I find Running in my feet when no one is Chasing me
• Every now and then when the Spirit of God touches me in the Sanctuary I begin to Lift Up Holy Hands when no one is Arresting Me
• Every now and then I steal away in my Secret Closet and begin to feel the presence of God and Tears begin to Flow when no one is Hurting Me
• I imagine this Blessed woman at the Dinner Party was overwhelmed to be able to Look into the Eyes of Jesus and Hear His very Words and then reflect upon her own life and the changes she needed and could make – Tears began to flow
Here stands this woman behind Jesus. This is where many of us fail in our Worship and Service to the Lord. All too often we are found standing in front of Jesus. We have a hard time standing behind Jesus, allowing Him to direct our lives and our circumstances. While she is standing behind Jesus, something breaks within her and the tears begin to flow. They literally fall on Jesus’ unwashed feet and leave streaks in the dirt and grime that Simon has refused to wash away. In her embarrassment she falls to her knees and begins to wipe his feet with her hair. Then she pours perfume from her jar onto his feet. Its’ aroma fills the room. She has gone from being ignored to being the center of attention. It must be noted that this sinner woman is not poor. She brings with her a costly “alabaster jar of ointment.” She is not hurting financially, but her behavior suggests she has faced some emotional trauma, for at the sight of Jesus she begins to weep, bathing his feet, in fact, with her tears. She follows this emotional display by drying Jesus’ feet with her hair, while continuing to apply tears and the expensive ointment in liberal quantities. If we want to draw a theological meaning from this, it must be that we cannot truly perceive how precious Christ is, until we are broken-hearted for our sins. When we are thoroughly disgusted with ourselves and our works, then we appreciate our great Lord and Savior.
Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus. That is why this woman began to cry. How long was this woman listening, how long was she there before she began to weep? We do not know, but at some point she began to cry. Jesus begins to speak to her as if he’s always known her, as if he cares about her. And she realizes he must be a prophet. How else could he understand her pain – the desperation that leads her to do this – the prison of shame that keeps her here? As she listened to the conversation she may have heard Him say:
• Blessed are those who are poor in heart
• Blessed are the those who mourn
• She could have heard something that she had heard Him teach before
• She could have been one among the many people who had heard Him during the Sermon on the Mount
• Watched Him heal the leper
• She might have been there when Jesus spoke about John the Baptist
• May have been one of those who came seeking to be healed
• The crowds were constantly seeking Jesus, and so was she
Simon the Pharisee, on the other hand, does not appreciate Jesus because Simon thinks he is self-sufficient. We must be careful when we feel we have achieved so much that we no longer need Jesus. We are educated – financially stable – able to travel – enjoy life – Jesus no longer important to us. Simon does not think he needs Jesus, so instead of thinking about how wonderful Jesus is, Simon spends his time thinking the worst of this woman. So when we apply this passage of scripture, who are we? Are we Simon, or the unnamed woman? I suspect that we want to identify with the woman. We know that we should be Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus, offering him whatever we have. We know that we should be a loving people, thus we easily identify with the woman, but what about Simon?
• Are we Simon the Pharisee
• Simon the judgmental
• Simon the disapproving
• Simon who could not even show the common courtesy of a welcoming kiss, but who still believed that he was better than this repentant woman
Let us say what good we can of Simon. He is a decent law-abiding person. He believes in God and good works and morality. He judges this woman by the strict morality of the Pharisees and finds her guilty, and since Jesus has apparently accepted her, he finds Jesus guilty also. Simon’s problem is that he has only part of a religion, and sometimes part of a religion is worse than none at all. This woman at the dinner party puts it all into perspective. I can imagine that woman trembling outside of the door and saying, “I’m not invited.” Isn’t it an amazing thing, when all is said and done -- we don’t know who attended banquet except the woman that most likely was not invited. In the Middle East it is usual for a host to greet visitors with a kiss. If the guest is a rabbi or teacher – and that’s what Simon calls Jesus – then custom demands that all the male members of the household greet him by respectfully kissing his hands. But Simon does not greet Jesus with a kiss. Etiquette demanded that special guests, as a sign of honor, be anointed with olive oil poured over the head. But Simon does not put oil on Jesus’ head. So she started wiping her tears off His feet, anointing His feet with perfume from her alabaster box and repeatedly kissing His feet. The Greek text once again reveals an important point. She was continuously wiping the tears off His feet, kissing His feet and anointing His feet. This woman was worshipping Jesus. She loved Him with all her heart – soul – mind. She did not care that she was embarrassing herself.
You see, worship is not about us. It’s not about making us happy. It’s not about singing the songs we like. Worship is about Jesus. The woman was preoccupied with Jesus. She didn’t care that there were others there who looked down on her. She cared only about what her Lord thought about her. She didn’t care how many hypocrites were around – her worship was focused on Jesus. The sweet smelling savor of worship is graphically pictured here. She brought something costly, something precious. It was rare and beautiful.
In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Phil Yancey points out the Christian church nowadays attracts mostly the “good” people, the religious and respectable types, the kind of folks who were so wary of Jesus back then. He wonders what’s happened to cause this shift. Why is it that “bad” people – sinners, downtrodden, down and out – don’t seem to like being around people like us? Jesus was a friend of sinners. They liked being around him and longed for his company. Meanwhile, legalists found him shocking, even revolting. What was Jesus secret that we have lost? I believe we have lost the importance surrounding Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus. The painful reality is that our churches often reflect the mood of Simon’s house than they do of Jesus Himself. We ought to welcome sinners, if they acknowledge themselves as sinners, and if they seek to be saved from their sins. All too often, sinners are shunned by the church, more than they are sought to be in the church.
What happens when you find yourself Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus?
-- People come to grace!
--You confess Jesus as Lord and are able to say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
-- We become a church that’s in the forgiving business, not the judging business
-- We can hear Jesus say, Your Faith Has Saved you
-- Where our burdens are Lifted
-- Understand that Greater is He that is within us than he that is in the World
-- At the Feet of Jesus we will find the Heart of Worship
-- We must place our all on the Alter
-- We become grateful
-- We become in Awe of his Amazing Love
-- Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus is where we find true Worship
-- Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus is where we touch the heart of God
-- Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus is where we gain the Strength to Carry On