Summary: Does Jesus teach that we are saved by works? Not at all! The woman's love for Jesus was not the price of forgiveness. It was the proof of forgiveness...
Kids, I want to play a simple game with you. The game is “Simon Says.” Ready? Simon says, “Touch your nose.” Simon says, “Raise yours hands.” Simon says, “Wave your hands.” Clap your hands! Oops. Simon didn’t say to do that, did he? In this game you’re only supposed to do what Simon says. But have you ever wondered who this Simon is? I mean why isn’t the game called “Suzy Says,” or “Cedric Says”? Why do we have to do what Simon says? No one seems to know who this Simon is.
There is a real Simon that I want to tell you more about this morning. We met him in our Gospel lesson. This Simon was a Pharisee – a religious leader who thought that the way to heaven was by keeping God’s laws. Jesus disagreed with Simon. He said that salvation comes to us through faith in his works not our works. That leads me to this question. “Simon Says” or “Savior Says”: whose salvation “game” are you playing?
Salvation of course is no “game.” If you lose, you go to a place of unimaginable and unending pain – pain much worse than a throbbing toothache or a weeklong migraine. Such pain is found in hell. So it’s very important that you take today’s sermon text seriously because it teaches us how to come out a “winner” in the “game” of salvation.
Our text describes how Simon invited Jesus to his house for dinner. When Jesus arrived, however, it became clear that Simon didn’t think very highly of him. The normal courtesies - the greeting kiss and water to wash the feet - were not offered Jesus. Picture the father who refuses to shake the hand of his daughter’s boyfriend and fails to offer to take his coat when he comes over for dinner. So why did Simon invite Jesus if he didn’t like him? It seems that he wanted to observe Jesus more closely. Many were saying that Jesus was a great prophet, perhaps even the promised Messiah. But Simon dismissed those ideas when a woman with a sinful reputation (unnamed so we could insert our own name?) came up to where Jesus was reclining at the banquet table and began crying. She cried so much that her tears began to wet Jesus’ feet. She then let down her hair and wiped Jesus’ feet dry with it. Finally she kissed his feet and poured expensive perfume on them! As Simon watched he thought to himself (perhaps with a self-satisfied smirk): “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
Of course Jesus was a prophet - more than that - he is the Son of God and knew what Simon was thinking. Jesus also knew all about the woman and her sins, whatever they were. The fact that Jesus didn’t recoil from this sinful woman (or from Simon) shows that his “rules” for the “game” of salvation were much different than Simon’s. Simon thought that the Messiah would only welcome those who had lived according to God’s commands, as Simon himself thought he had done. Jesus set Simon straight with the following parable. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both” (Luke 7:40-42).
Like the two men in the parable, the woman and Simon owed a debt incurred by their sin that neither could repay God. Simon may not have been guilty of the public sin that the woman had committed, but he could hardly say that he was without sin. He was at least guilty of the sin of looking down on others. How many times in a day aren’t we guilty of labeling people as Simon did? We see a man whose shirt is untucked, face unshaven and we think, “What a slob.” What we don’t know is that he was up all night with a sick a child.
But if the woman and Simon were guilty of sin, why was Jesus, the sinless Son of God, hanging out with them? Because he was on a rescue mission. Jesus once said of himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Just as a lifeguard doesn’t simply bark swimming stroke instructions to the kid who is drowning (what good would that do?) but dives in after him, so Jesus dove into humanity to wrap his arms around us flailing sinners to bring us to heaven. How exactly does Jesus do this? Jesus announced to the woman washing his feet, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). What he literally said was, “Your sins stand dismissed.” Jesus used a perfect tense, which in Greek points to an action completed in the past but has ongoing benefits. In other words, before the woman had even showed up to anoint Jesus’ feet, her sins had been forgiven.