Summary: The woman heard Jesus’ sermon in faith. Simon, the Pharisee heard it in unbelief.
What’s the difference between the Pharisee and the woman in today’s Gospel reading? I’m not asking about the difference in how they acted. Let’s go deeper. What was different in their hearts that showed in their actions?
If we look beyond the superficial, we can see that their different responses grew from a different understanding of what Jesus said. This was more than just some theoretical, academic difference. One person took Jesus’ sermon to heart--as a private sermon meant just for her. The other didn’t see that Jesus’ sermon was for him. It just couldn’t be so. That is the difference between hearing a sermon in faith and hearing a sermon in unbelief.
The woman heard Jesus’ sermon in faith. The Pharisee heard it in unbelief.
So there it is: A Pharisee, named Simon, invites Jesus over for a meal. Simon is most likely having a dinner, with Jesus as the honored guest. Simon already knows of Jesus. Simon had probably heard Him speak earlier at synagogue. And Simon wants to know more of this man. It’s in this setting that Jesus gives a personal sermon during the meal.
Simon has his doubts about Jesus. He’s not convinced that Jesus is the real deal. Yes, Jesus intrigues him, he’s drawn to Jesus’ powerful preaching, but he’s still skeptical. So he invites Jesus into his house to see whether Jesus is a true prophet and teacher--if He might even be the long-promised messiah!
But more happens than Simon expects: he isn’t the only one wanting to hear more from this Jesus. A woman, a woman of questionable character, also wants to hear more from Jesus, a woman who sneaks in, an uninvited guest to the feast. And what happens when Jesus preaches? He preaches not only to Simon, but also to this woman.
And what does Jesus preach? He preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus preaches exactly what He will later tell His apostles to preach (Luke 24:27). Both the woman and Simon hear the same preaching. But their responses differ.
Simon doesn’t apply Jesus’ words to himself. After all, he hasn’t lapsed into any terrible or open sins. He has an excellent reputation. He’s a decent member of the community. Why does he need to repent? What does he need forgiveness for, especially when compared with this uninvited woman?
With the woman, it’s different--and it shows from the get-go. She repents. She responds in tears. She responds by kissing Jesus’ feet and washing them. She responds with the humility of faith.
So how are you doing? I’m sure you realize that you’re a sinner. Isn’t that what we confess at the beginning of each worship service? Yet the question for us today is not so much if we’re willing to admit that we’re sinners, it’s how we measure our sinfulness. By what standard do you admit that you are a sinful being?
Simon’s mistake is two-fold: he measures his sinfulness by what he does or doesn’t do, not what’s also in his heart. Second, he gauges his sinfulness by comparing himself to others, to this woman who had many known and outward sins.
That’s where he messed up. Comparing yourself to another is not the measure we are given to use on ourselves. Sin is diagnosed by comparing yourself to the Word of God, Jesus Himself.
Jesus “is living and active. He is sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature can hide from Him. Everyone is uncovered and exposed to the eyes of the One to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Simon fails to see that he and the woman are alike before God. On their own, neither is fit for an eternity in God’s holy presence. He fails to see they are alike, that is, sinful. He fails to see that Jesus is calling them both to repent and to receive His forgiveness, and both to inherit everlasting life.
Simon sees himself as separate and of better stock than the woman. How can Jesus tell him to lose his pride and consider himself the same as others? How offensive! It’s even worse when he sees what Jesus does, when Jesus places Himself among such sinners.
That offended Simon! Yet it should prompt you and me to rejoice, for that alone is our salvation. Jesus numbered Himself among sinners, taking our place, suffering for us, and dying to become our forgiveness. Since that’s at the heart of Jesus, Simon thinks that Jesus can’t be a prophet--it just can’t be so! How could He be?
But Simon is wrong. He has no faith, which is why he shows no real love toward Jesus and why he withholds love from this sinful woman. But it’s a different story with this sinful woman. The difference between her and Simon is that she heard Jesus’ preaching and knew that it was meant for her. She took His Word to heart.