Luke 7:36-50 NASB
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered
the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
(37) And there was a woman in the city who was
a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster
vial of perfume, (38) and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His
feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and
kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. (39)
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself,
"If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this
woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." (40) And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied,
"Say it, Teacher." (41) "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred
denarii, and the other fifty. (42) "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave
them both. So which of them will love him more?" (43) Simon answered and said, "I suppose the
one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You
have judged correctly." (44) Turning
toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see
this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has
wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (45) "You gave Me no
kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.
(46) "You did not
anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. (47) "For this reason I
say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much;
but he who is forgiven little, loves little." (48) Then He said to her, "Your
sins have been forgiven." (49)
Those who were reclining at the table
with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" (50) And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
About "That Woman"
One of the great peculiarities of Jesus Christ is that his
person attracted the sinners. Those who are righteous in their own mind viewed
him with suspicion; those who darn good and well that they were sinners of the
worst type loved him. Tax collectors, political frauds and women who were
prostitutes came to him for forgiveness and salvation. In this lesson we
examine one of those women.
Prostitution-a Victimless Crime
The modern attitude towards prostitution is shaped by
Hollywood. Prostitutes on the silver screen are women with hearts of gold,
dazzling beauty and tough circumstances. Given our modern attitude towards sex,
we often see prostitution as being a victimless crime. Indeed, in Nevada
(except Las Vegas) prostitution is legal. When the subject comes up good
liberal thinkers don't hesitate to tell us that we are wasting our money on
pursuing prostitution. But I submit to you that prostitution is not a
victimless crime; to do so we must name the victims.
The first victim is the prostitute herself. The prostitute's life
is often driven by a pimp who is also supplying her drugs. It is not unusual
that she has small children which even more ties are to the man who gives her
the drugs. Her life is not that of a movie prostitute; it is not at all that
glamorous. She's at the bottom of the food chain, and she knows it.
The next victim is the wife of the man who uses the prostitute.
Think of the message this sends to her. It tells you how completely unworthy he
thinks she is. Worse, the movie image of the prostitute is now what she sees as
her chief competition. The movie image is a formidable competitor to the
We are not out of victims yet. Consider the effect that
prostitution has on the man's children. They grow up thinking that this sort of
treatment for their mother is perfectly normal. The boys grow up to be men who
see nothing wrong with the prostitute and the girls grow up expecting to get
married and put up with it.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention sexually transmitted diseases.
A one of Christ time would not have the drawback of being a
drug addict. So we might well ask just how a woman could fall into being a
prostitute in the time of Christ. One of the most common ways would've been
through being a widow. Particularly if she is a widow with young children,
meaning there is no grown male child to provide for her, her options were
extremely limited. She could appeal to her husband's family, but often enough
they weren't interested.
You might think that this is easily overcome. Remember that
in this day there were no women's professions, other than prostitution. Women
stayed in the home. But let me give you a modern example of the kind of
pressure that can be applied. Many years ago I was sent to Cleveland to take a
course on a new software product that was being marketed for the first time. It
was very unusual, but we were told to be there at one o'clock in the afternoon
of Sunday. Since the product was made by my company, there seemed no reason to
deny this – and I duly we showed up. It was a social occasion – only. At this
occasion a very attractive redhead attached herself to me and proceeded to
flatter me all afternoon. There may be a male on the planet that doesn't like
the flattery of a pretty girl. I'm not that male. She wasn't in the class, but
we had dinner together every night as a class – and she was there. On Thursday
night she was kind enough to drop me off at the hotel. She then asked if I
would like to have her come up to my room. It was an awkward moment, and I
tried to do my best to firmly but politely decline.
She broke out in tears. When I did finally get some sense
out of her, she explained why she was so "attracted" to me. She was a
single mother with two small children. Her job was that of data entry on the
keypunch machine. Her management had told her that she was to seduce me to
provide them leverage to make me recommend the product. She was told she would
be fired if she did not cooperate. (If this happened today my reaction would be
very different.) In those days, there seemed to be no avenue to setting things
right. The product was a "no sale." Eventually the manager in
question was fired, though I am not sure that my actions (and my outrage) had
anything to do with it.
You see the point, I hope. Even in these modern times a
single woman with small children can often be in a desperate circumstance. It's
one of the reasons God hates divorce.
Our prostitute here might have had another excuse; she might
simply have been the prodigal daughter. I'm sure that in our own mind she
justified herself however she could. But we must ask: does the fact that she
has a reasonable and indeed heart wrenching excuse really make her actions the
less sinful? To ask the question is to answer it. No matter how she excused
herself, she knew that what she was doing was wrong. But as so often happens,
she saw no escape. No escape, until Jesus arrived.
Act of Devotion
Her plea for forgiveness matched her desperation. She was
not about to bring the subject up lightly in casual conversation. In her
circumstances she was not about to try anything halfway. What she did is an act
of devotion, something that Christians no longer consider – but should.
First and foremost, it was an extravagant act. Remember the widow
with her two mites? She could've given only one; but she gave all she had.
That's extravagance. Breaking that perfume jar over Jesus’ feet was also
It has the characteristic of an act of devotion — namely that the
world thought it was useless.
Finally, the act was delivered in such a way that you knew the
utter humility of the woman. It wasn't about her; it was about Jesus Christ.
If you can see the completeness of this woman's sacrifice,
then you understand both the cost and the joy involved.
The Simple Parable
Normally we would put the principles at the back of the
lesson, so that you might walk away with them. I put them here so that you
understand them first and then we can talk about how to act on them.
Forgiven More, Love More
My wife and I frequently (well, twice a year) participate in
prison ministry. One of the interesting lessons we learn is that people like
us, who have shared God's bounty with relatively little trouble, are at a
disadvantage in talking to the inmates. The speakers they use are often
ex-convicts. Their words carry more weight, because they have been there. They
have also been forgiven much more than I have had to. That testimony is
powerful; the ordinary civilian might not be able to get that point across.
Great sinners make great Saints. The prime example of this,
of course, is St. Paul. He frequently describes himself as one who had
persecuted the church and was therefore the least worthy of sinners. Then he
drew the contrast and showed what God had made of him. The example is still
Forgiveness Is Expensive
Sometimes forgiveness is expensive to the forgiver. Let me
give you an example:
Dan Sickles was, in the 1850s, an up and coming politician, a
Congressman from New York. He was a member of one of the most prominent
of political organizations (and the most corrupt): Tammany Hall. He
had his sights set upon becoming president of the United States. He might
have made it -- had he not shot and killed Philip Barton Key.
Key was the son of Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote "The Star Spangled
Banner," our national anthem. He was a good friend of Sickles.
He was also Sickles' lawyer, and Sickles appears to have used his influence to
have Key appointed as United States attorney. He also was Mrs. Sickles'
One day, on the street across from the White House, Sickles met Key. He
pulled out his revolver and shot him dead on the spot. That accomplished,
he walked down the street to surrender the revolver (and himself) to the
The trial was a public circus. People debated whether or not Sickles was
a man who had defended the sanctity of marriage or a common murderer.
Remember, this was in a time when almost everyone in America believed that divorce
was morally wrong. Adultery was not "an affair," but one of the
worst sins anyone could commit. Meanwhile, his defense team (including
Edwin Stanton, later the Secretary of War for Abraham Lincoln) came up with a
new defense. For the first time in American justice, they raised the
defense of "temporary insanity." They argued that the
shock of finding out that his wife was untrue to him, and with his best friend,
was so great as to render him insane. The court acquitted him.
He returned to Congress to find himself an absolute pariah. When he
entered the hall, other members refused even to sit near him. He was
totally ostracized -- but not for murder. You see, he had done something
so utterly scandalous as to make the shooting seem trivial by comparison.
He forgave his wife, and took her back.
You might not think of it this way, but social expectations
often make forgiveness very expensive. If it is expensive for the one who
forgives, it can also be expensive for the one who is forgiven. Mrs. Sickles
spent the rest of her life as a social pariah. Often enough people do not wish
to be forgiven, because forgiving implies they were wrong – and that's going to
hurt their pride. God forgives us at the price of the Cross.
God's Forgiveness Depends on Your Forgiveness
With all the expense and trouble involved, some of us would
think it's just not worth it. After all, what difference does it make if I
forgive her? It's that kind of thinking because God teaches otherwise. He makes
it explicit in this passage:
Matthew 6:14-15 NASB
"For if you forgive others for their
transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) "But if you do not
forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
The red letters tell you who was speaking. So there you have
it is a command. But Americans want to know why such a command would be given;
rather curious about these things, aren't we? Here's a reason:
Romans 12:19 NASB
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS
MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.
Vengeance belongs to God; if you take it, you are stealing
from God. Vengeance is his job; yours is forgiveness. It is best to keep her
mind on your work. All of this, of course, is nothing but the imitation of
Christ — who forgave us at the Cross. He puts it to us this way:
Matthew 5:43-48 NASB
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE
YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' (44)
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (46) "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you
have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) "If you greet only
your brothers, what more are you doing than
others? Do not even the Gentiles do the
same? (48) "Therefore
you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Barriers to Forgiveness
For the modern Christian is important to find the barriers
to forgiveness, so that we can deal with them.
We saw with Dan Sickles above social convention might be a
deterrent to forgiveness. The fact is that every age has its list of acceptable
sins. In our time divorce is not considered a sin, and adultery barely makes
the list — sometimes. Greed is entrepreneurial; envy is social justice. The
trick for the Christian is to recognize these facts and look past the social
convention to see the real sin – and the real sinner. In our time we have
difficulty with establishing what is or is not a sin, or even whether or not
such a thing as sin exists. Do not be deceived; just because society doesn't
think forgiveness is necessary, that doesn't mean it is no longer required.
It's the Principle
In my misspent youth I used to run what were called gimmick
rallies. This was a car trip combined with the test of your mental skills in
solving the puzzles presented to you. The first time I participated, I get an
argument with the rally master. When I was advised that we had won the rally,
and that what I was arguing over was worth precisely 1/8 of the point, I
replied "it's the principle of the thing." What that means is, of
course, my pride was involved. The overweening desire to prove that you are
right is probably the greatest barrier to forgiveness. We even laugh about it;
have you ever seen the cartoon where the tombstone said, "I had the
right-of-way"? We often find ourselves in pride; we are therefore not
capable of forgiveness.
Bury the Hatchet – Handle up
Sometimes we go through the formal act of forgiveness, but
our other actions reveal that we really haven't forgiven. We may have been
pressured into it. Do not be mistaken; God one honest forgiveness, not the
ceremony. One of the places this is most common for us is in someone's annoying
habits. They may not even see the habit is something offensive, but it grates
on you. You then find that you must forgive more than once, even to the point
of having to put up with it.
Here's a test for you: do you ever lie awake at night
dreaming of your own vengeance? Do you savor every little morsel of revenge as
you humiliate your opponent? That is not forgiveness; it is (as Bismarck
would've remarked) the rage of dreaming sheep. You have a choice: chew the cud
of anger or forgive. Often enough, your decision either way doesn't affect the
person who wronged you. The matter is entirely in your mind, they might not
even know the offended you. This is still taking vengeance; and you're doing
when you should forgive. As you leave this lesson, consider: Christ forgives
you because you forgive others. The question is, are there any others to