A scandalous gospel.
I was asked to contribute a devotional to SOLA’s series, “The Women Jesus Loved,” so with some encouragement from JE, I chose the woman from Luke 7.
This devotional was written as God reminded me last month of the bitterness of my sin and the sweetness of His grace.
I pray it blesses you.
This article was first published at SOLA.
Author’s Note: Text from Luke 7:36-50 (ESV) in bold
She lived during a time when men were said to have thanked God daily that they had not been born women. Behold, a woman of the city.
Not only that, she had embraced an unmentionable sin for so long that it had become her identity. Who was a sinner.
Or in hushed voices, maybe “prostitute.”
When they saw her coming, they quietly avoided her. Cross the road. Avert your eyes. Raise no greeting. Her doorway is the doorway to hell (Proverbs 7:27; 9:18), and her uncleanness is contagious, so keep your distance.
Simon the Pharisee knew her. Everyone knew her, so Simon judged Jesus for what he assumed was ignorance because surely, it could not be informed acceptance. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Yet something had transformed her. A woman like her knew she did not belong in anyone’s home, much less the home of a Pharisee. What brought this sort of woman here? But she came, braving the finger-pointing, the whispers, and the risk of being thrown out.
She came for Jesus, and she came prepared. When she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s home, (she) brought an alabaster flask of ointment.
How did she know about Jesus? Did she overhear neighbors questioning if he was the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38; 4:21)? Did she hear in the marketplace that he healed the diseased and demon-possessed (6:18)? Was she among the crowds when he taught, “Your Father is merciful” (6:36)?
She must have known he was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (7:34) because little else could explain her brazen act. Standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Scandalous. How dare she touch the Holy One?
Her actions were a silent rebuke to the false teaching of her day. No, God’s kingdom is not for the proud; it is for the poor in spirit (6:20). It is for those who mourn (6:21). It is for tax collectors and sinners (15:1-2). For the crippled and blind and lame (14:21). The prodigal (15:11-32). The prostitute (7:50).
But she did not show up to refute false doctrine. She simply wanted to love Jesus. And the members of her body that were once presented to sin as instruments for unrighteousness she now wanted to present in his service (Romans 6:13).
He had walked and taught among the crowds in dirty streets, but when he entered Simon’s home, Simon did not task a servant to wash Jesus’ feet or even give him water to wash his own feet. Simon opened his house to Jesus but not his heart, and he withheld a most basic gesture of hospitality. “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”
In sharp contrast, here was this who and what sort of woman bending over Jesus’ soiled feet, washing them with her tears and gently wiping his feet with her hair. After pouring precious ointment on his feet, her worship overflowed in reverent kisses to his feet. Simon was regarded better than her in every way, but Jesus knew their hearts (Luke 2:35). “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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
What would evoke such costly love and worship from this woman?
Jesus had something to say to Simon. “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
No doubt she was the debtor who owed five hundred denarii. Her sins before God were legion, but God himself absorbed the cost and canceled her debt. Her sins were neither excused nor minimized, but – hallelujah! – they were forgiven. Every single one.
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.”
And her love was the fragrant flower that grew from the seed of divine forgiveness. She loved much because she was loved much first (1 John 4:19).
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
This was hardly a genuine question. More likely, they were mocking Jesus’ implicit claim to be the moneylender, God himself. He came to cancel their debts, but they rejected him and grossly underestimated their debt. Thanks, but no thanks, they could pay it themselves. They needed no Savior; they had themselves.
So, justification was not for the self-righteous who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like this sinful woman.” Justification was for her who cried, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14)
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus’ words were more scandalous to the Pharisees than this woman’s past. But his words were true. God’s kingdom was for her and, by God’s grace, those like her.