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.