One of the Pharisees asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and 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. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then 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. 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. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And 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?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” -Luke 7:36–50
We don’t love little because we have little that requires forgiveness. We love little because we’ve confessed little and hidden much. Therefore we experience little forgiveness. This is what Jesus is teaching both Simon and us when he says, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much”
This is not to say that her great love resulted in her forgiveness, but rather such great love is evidence she has been forgiven much. This is further shown in the following statement: “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
No amount of Law keeping or straight and narrow walking can produce love in us. Forgiveness alone does that. Free grace alone serves as water for the parched, cracked soil of the human heart. When this kind of water is poured out the Holy Spirit brings forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Simon doesn’t need to go out and find a prostitute, sleep with her, and then return to Jesus for forgiveness to have this love produced in him. He needs to be confronted with the reality that his own heart is every bit a “thing of the city” as this woman. No one can out-sin the fallen human heart.
We wrongly assume the desires we suppress magically turn into holiness—a sort of meritorious abstinence. We try not sin so we can be good enough to invite God over for dinner. We need to stop. This will never work. The Maker and Knower of hearts isn’t buying it. He’ll accept our invitation to come over for dinner. He’s too good and gracious not to. And if we’re lucky, a woman of the street will crash our party. When the things we desperately try to hide are weeping in our dining room it’s a jarring, self-righteous horror. But it’s definitely something we need. Jesus loves this woman of countless sins enough to forgive her, and he loves this Pharisee of nameless sins enough to absolve her in front of him.
The offense of seeing someone forgiven of everything we’re striving and striving to suppress, right in front of us, cannot be overlooked. We wouldn’t dare lay our lips on this man. It’s unthinkable. Maybe that’s because we don’t know him well enough. We’re too busy trying to impress him with the shine of our fine china, the true north of our moral compass, and the true right angle of our uncorrupted theology to get to know the heart of this friend of sinners from Nazareth.
The uncomfortable truth is that Jesus doesn’t come to be wined and dined by the righteous. He comes to forgive debts (there are no small debts) and invite us to the blessed after party that never ends. But first he comes to make us uncomfortable in the best way. He comes to make us desperately dependent on the only thing that ultimately delivers from death—himself.
This is an excerpt from the new book Scandalous Stories: A Sort-Of Commentary on Parables. You can buy the book by clicking the button below.
Daniel is the Director of Christ Hold Fast, an author, church and conference speaker and co-host of the podcasts 40 Minutes in the Old Testament and 30 Minutes in the New Testament. He has served as a church planter, pastor and worship leader and currently lives in Bentonville Arkansas with his wife Jessica and daughter Anna.