Summary: Jesus contrasts a prideful Pharisee and a formerly promiscuous sinner desperate for grace. One is changed forever and one is unchanged. The difference: pride vs. humility. We all are in need of a Savior. Sadly, some don't realize it until it is too late.
Pride and Promiscuity
The sermon title for today’s story is in honor of my wife, who first introduced me to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” a classic tale of two strong-willed and misunderstood personalities coming together in romantic love.
But today’s Bible story is a different kind of love story. Instead of “Pride and Prejudice,” we have “Pride and Promiscuity,” named after its two main characters apart from Jesus. One is the prideful Simon the Pharisee, a community leader full of self-inflated importance and probably seeking to trap Jesus. The other is an unnamed woman who has come out of a life of sin, probably sexual sin; thus, the name “pride and promiscuity.”
The setting is a dinner at Simon’s house. It was not uncommon back then for town people to gather at important social events to watch the rich and famous. It would be like our star search today, where you might try to spot an actor in an LA restaurant. Here people came to check out Jesus. What is not so common is that a woman of poor reputation would dare to come out in public, particularly at the home of a Pharisee hosting a popular rabbi. She had a brazenness to her, or more likely a desperation.
Her activities lean toward desperation. She was desperate for God’s love and forgiveness. She wept at Jesus’ feet; she wiped his feet with her hair, then kissed his feet and poured perfume on them. All of these actions suggest a person full of shame and remorse and desperately seeking forgiveness from a holy God.
Meanwhile, the prideful one is put off. Simon thinks, “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.” Simon mistakenly believes that if an unclean person touches you, then you are unclean. If that were true, what chance would Jesus have, coming to live among the spiritually unclean human race? The truth is, the only one clean is Jesus. Simon needed the Lord just as much as the person with a promiscuous past. We are all sinners. In fact, sometimes we are just like Simon. We look down our noses at people who don’t have their act together like us. We forget that we are in just as much need of God’s love and forgiveness.
Jesus proved he is a prophet by reading Simon’s mind. Jesus picked up on Simon’s haughty spirit and told him a story, a story about debt forgiveness. A denarius is about one day’s wages. So one guy owes 50 days of wages, and the other guy owes 500, about a year and a half worth of work! Jesus’ question was simple: When the lender decides to forgive both loans, which man is going to be the most grateful? Which will “love him more?” Simon answered, “I guess the one with the bigger debt canceled.” It’s as if he still couldn’t admit to his own need for forgiveness. Jesus affirmed his answer nonetheless.
Then Jesus slammed him. I love how Jesus turned toward the woman (verse 44) as he pointed out Simon’s pride. The story is for her, too. Jesus showed three areas where Simon had ignored his guest while the woman had bent over backward to serve him: water for Jesus’ feet, a Middle Eastern kiss of welcome, and oil for Jesus’ head. All three would have been ceremonially saying, “Welcome!” and would have been practical as well. The water would help cleanse his sandaled feet after walking on dirt roads all day. The oil would cool him down and honor him as a great prophet. Yet, Simon did none of these. It seems he despised Jesus practically as much as he did the woman!
The woman, on the other hand, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed his feet, a sign of great love for her new Lord, and she anointed his feet with perfume. Maybe that was a way of saying, “I don’t need this anymore to entice men, so I give it to my Lord.” We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely she had met Jesus recently and found the hope of a changed life. Now she is sorrowful for the past but abundantly hopeful for forgiveness and a new life.
The key line is verse 47: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—therefore she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” This woman wanted forgiveness with all of her heart, and so she got it. In verse 48, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” which gets the crowd murmuring, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Who indeed? And in verse 50 he adds, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Her faith in the one who could save her allowed Jesus to bring about her salvation. Our job is to believe; God’s job is to save.