First Mennonite Church
July 30, 2017
Jesus Meets Simon
Text: Luke 7:36-50
The minute we read this story, we readily realize there is something about two of its characters we do not like. We do not like the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee. And, we do not like the adjective used to describe the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.
Simon thought he was a good host and blameless. He was in fact a member of the religious elite. Pharisees were admired. They were called masters or teachers. They were dedicated learners of the Torah and teachers of it as well. The Pharisees were strict observers of the law who, therefore, practiced all the rituals of purity and went at length to avoid being defiled, at least outwardly.
We see Simon, who contrary to Luke’s assertion that “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (v.30), dared to invite Jesus to a meal at his house. We would not have known of the quality of Simon’s hospitality to Jesus if it were not for what happened during the meal.
Lo and behold, a party crasher came in. All the conversation around the food mat stopped. And all eyes turned toward Jesus. The uninvited woman knelt by his feet, which were away from the mat as he was eating. Simon was ready to recognize the type of woman she was: a “sinner,” which in plain English translates, a prostitute. The woman immediately became an embarrassment to Simon. But more troubling to Simon was his assumption about Jesus’ failure to recognize what kind of person the woman was. Simon was proving his doubts about Jesus. “If he were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him,” Simon thought to himself. He assumed her actions were enough to defile the character, morality and person of Jesus. For as far as Simon was concerned, he never would have come close to such kind of people. He never would have eaten with “sinners.” He never would have allowed any such kind of people to touch him. And the woman never would have dared to enter the house of a Pharisee under any normal circumstance. But there was an exception that time: Jesus was there.
Yes, Jesus was there in the house of a self-righteous man, Simon. Jesus had accepted the invitation of Simon. He wanted to extend his fellowship to a man in great need of compassion, mercy, and salvation, even when this man was blind to his dire need of grace.
Luke reminds us in verse 34 that Jesus had been known as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Therefore, it is likely that somewhere along Jesus’ interactions with sinners, a life was profoundly touched and transformed. One of them was the sinner woman who found out Jesus was having lunch at Simon’s place. She was determined to express her repentance, love, and devotion to Jesus.
It is very obvious that under normal circumstances a prostitute would never enter the house of a Pharisee; in fact she would not be allowed to do so. But Jesus was there! And she wanted to meet Jesus no matter where he was. I believe Jesus is here in our fellowship today. I also want to believe that unlike Simon, we do recognize our need of God’s grace and that there is no prejudice in our heart against anyone. I want to believe that like the woman, we have come to this place in full repentance and to offer the Lord our love and devotion in gratitude.
While Simon was still talking to himself as to whether or not Jesus is a prophet, Jesus not only revealed that he knew what sort of woman was touching him, but that also he knew Simon’s very thoughts. Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” replied Simon.
Jesus told him a parable about two debtors, one who owed a lot of money and the other just a little amount. The two were forgiven their debt. Then Jesus asked Simon: who do you think will love more? And Simon gave the right answer: the one who was forgiven the most. Then Jesus said, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Jesus showed Simon the contrast between his hospitality and the woman’s actions. An honored guest would have been welcomed by a household slave washing his feet. But Simon did not even offer water to Jesus to wash his own feet, yet the woman was washing them with her tears. An honored guest would be welcomed with a kiss, but Simon did not kiss Jesus. The woman had not stopped kissing the feet of Jesus since she came in. Simon did not offer even olive oil, which was the most common ointment, yet the woman poured an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.
Why did this woman express all this love and devotion beyond the rules of hospitality? The answer is simple: she realized her many sins had been forgiven and therefore, her expression of love corresponded in greatness too.
Here again, this story raises some issues and topics we can reflect on. I would like for us to give some thought to three of them.
Hospitality. Hospitality is the friendly and generous reception of visitors, guests and strangers into our home for entertainment. What does the Bible say about this topic? This is what Peter writes on this topic.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining (1Peter 4:9). Why would Peter ask Christians to not complain when offering hospitality? To be hospitable requires a good measure of patience and hard work. If it is for a meal you have to prepare not only to cook but also to clean up after the event. If it is to host someone for a day or two, you’d have to give up your bedroom if you do not have much room. In other words to be hospitable is to allow being inconvenienced by others. No wonder why complaining about hospitality is possible. Today, even Christians have given in to the cultural practices of hospitality: it must be reciprocal. If I invite someone, I also expect to be invited in a future time. But this has led many to abandon the practice altogether. The general rule has become: I do not inconvenience you, you do not inconvenience me. As long as I am not an inconvenience to someone, no one will inconvenience me either.
This is what Paul says about the topic: Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers (Romans 12:13). If it is difficult to host friends, just imagine strangers! It is no wonder why the writer of Hebrews writes: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). We are called to practice hospitality without complaining.
The other topic arising from this story is the difficulty we have with our own blind spots. The psalmist prays, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. In the case of Simon, he loved less not because he only had a few sins to be forgiven. No. He loved less because he was unaware of how many sins he needed to be forgiven for. He believed he was beyond reproach when in fact he held prejudice against those he considered sinners. He measured the woman according to his standard of purity, religiousness and social standing. But Jesus confronted his hypocrisy. The underbelly of hypocrisy is always vulnerable to the truth. The mask of Simon’s pretense of a good host was ripped off by the devotion, love and gratitude of the prostitute. How so often, we Christians like Simon would like to believe that we are “better” off morally than others and that we do not have much to be forgiven for! Let us pray with the psalmist: Help me discern my own error and guard me against the hidden sins.
I am pretty sure we wish we could embody such great devotion and love as the “sinner” woman showed Jesus. I am pretty sure we wish we were given such immense grace also as Jesus extended to her. I am sure we would also love to hear the word of forgiveness Jesus spoke to this woman: “Your sins are forgiven.” And let me tell you, Jesus is also pronouncing those very words to us: “Your sins are forgiven.”
We also wish, although with much hesitation, that Jesus would confront our moral blindness in the same way he confronted Simon’s. And Jesus wants to confront us too. Just as Jesus said to Simon, he tells us: I have something I want to tell you.” Let us open our ears to listen to his voice. Let us surrender to the Lord and respond with humility. Let us respond: Tell me, teacher!