|Christ in the House of the Pharisees, Jacob Tintoretto, Escorial|
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the effects of faith.
Key Verse: Luke 7:47
Pray and Read: Luke 7:36-50
1. Pride and judgmentalism are born of unbelief (Luke 7:36-39)
2. Forgiveness and salvation are born of faith (Luke 7:40-50)
After calling us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (Luke 1-2) and to repent of our sin (Luke 3:1-20) through the sacrificial death (Luke 3:21-23a) of the true Son of God (Luke 3:23b-38), who has power to defeat the enemy in every area of human life (Luke 4:1-13), Luke unveils Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50), powerfully contrasting belief and unbelief in a series of events.
Unbelief at the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:14-30), contrasts with the faith of the Capernaum synagogue’s (Luke 4:31-44). After Jesus’ first disciples follow him in faith (Luke 5:1-11), the religious leaders’ unbelief is offended when Jesus forgives sin (Luke 5:12-26). Levi’s response of faith (Luke 5:27-32) is counter balanced by the Pharisees unbelief and anger when Jesus dines with sinners (Luke 5:33-39). Against the Pharisees’ unbelief and Sabbath rules (Luke 6:1-11) are twelve apostles appointed by Jesus in faith (Luke 6:12-16).
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus lays out the blessings of faith and the woes of unbelief (Luke 6:17-26), saying we must put our faith into practice by developing Christ-like love (Luke 6:27-36), Christ-like integrity (Luke 6:37-42), Christ-like character (Luke 6:43-45), and Christ-like stability (Luke 6:46-49).
To illustrate his theme of Jesus’ mission to all the nations, Luke demonstrates the astonishing faith of a Gentile Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and Jesus’ gracious resurrection power for a widow (Luke 7:11-17). After the shocking contrast the doubt of John the Baptizer (Luke 7:18-35), Luke drives the point home in our passage – the believing faith of a sinful woman in the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). This incident summarizes themes developed in this chapter. Christ is compassionate and powerful. He heals bodies and souls. Those who have faith in Him experience His power in both physical and spiritual realms, something the Pharisee, representing the leadership of first century Judaism, could neither see nor understand. Unlike John, whose questioning came from faith, the Pharisees’ doubts were a blunt denial of the clear evidence of who Jesus was and is.
Exposition: Note well,
1. PRIDE AND JUDGMENTALISM ARE BORN OF UNBELIEF (Luke 7:36-39)
a. Jesus’ conclusion in the previous story, that “wisdom is proved right by all her children” is now illustrated with a powerful story of a repentant sinner, one of those precious “children of wisdom” being transformed by the grace of God in Jesus’ ministry. Have you noticed something about Jesus’ personality? He seems to enjoy the edginess of violating some social taboos, to reach out to those on the margins of society racially (Luke 7:1-10), economically (Luke 7:11-17), religiously (Luke 7:24-35) and even morally (Luke 7:36-50).
b. Luke 7:36 – It was considered a virtue to invite a well known teacher to a banquet in his honor. The reclining position indicates it is a banquet given in Jesus’ honor. (John 13:23-25). The invitation indicates that Sh’mon views Jesus as a social equal, that is, a respected rabbi. Sh’mon’s attitude will change shortly, though. A ‘sinful woman’ enters the banquet and going to Jesus, anoints him with expensive perfume. Pharisee Sh’mon is aghast that a respected rabbi and supposed prophet like Jesus would allow such a woman to touch him. He haughtily judges Jesus when a woman “who had led a sinful life” weeps and washes His feet. What makes this scene more interesting is that the influence of Greek culture on the world has transformed the banquet since the classical Greek period into a setting for moral instruction. (What interests me right now is that I’d like to know how this “sinful woman” knew where Mr. Sh’mon’s lived!)
c. Luke 7:37 – Woman with a sinful life: This woman, probably a prostitute, is despised not because she crashes the party, but because her sinful lifestyle brings defilement to the gathering. Life was more open and public in the first century than today. At such a dinner party, interested but uninvited onlookers were allowed to stand on the sidelines and listen to the conversation of influential people. The religious elite would never socialize with or even touch such a person, not publicly anyway. This makes her actions toward Jesus particularly offensive to those present.
d. The alabaster jar of perfume is a flask carved from alabaster with a long neck broken off when the contents were used. The flasks were used for fine perfumes and ointments. The Greek word myron could be an ointment or a perfume. Jews did not consider perfume sinful, but if she is a prostitute, then it is a tool of her trade. If it is nard (as in Mark 14:3; John 12:3), it would have cost perhaps 300 denarii, a years wages for a day laborer. Such a gift represents an enormous sacrifice.
e. Luke 7:38 – She stood behind at his feet weeping: The woman may be trying to anoint Jesus’ head, but she cannot reach him because of the way the guests are reclining. The guests reclined on mats or couches around a short table, with their left arms on the table and with their legs extended behind them toward the wall. Anointing the head was an act of respect for an honored guest (Psalm 23:5). She has with her no towel, so when her tears of thanksgiving fall on Jesus’ feet, she wipes them with her hair.
f. Adult women who were religious were to cover their heads, their hair being their glory. Having hair exposed was considered promiscuous. Not only that, but it was considered a sign of disgrace and shame for a woman to unbind her hair in the presence of men. Her action suggests not only her humility, but that she is not very religious. This woman seems so overwhelmed with the presence of Jesus and her gratitude toward him that she completely forgets her surroundings. Then she kisses and anoints his feet with the perfume she has brought for his head, both signs of reverence and gratitude. The whole scene reveals a spontaneous and dramatic expression of gratitude.
g. Is this the parallel story to the anointing by Mary of Bethany during Passion Week (Matt 26:6; Mark 14:3; John 12:3)? We think these are two separate incidents, since Sh’mon was such a common name, Luke was quite familiar with Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39, 42), and there are a number of important differences.
h. Jesus turns the tables on Sh’mon with a parable illustrating the right response to the free gift of grace offered to sinners. Those, like this woman, who have been forgiven much, love much. The self-righteous Pharisees see no need to repent because they don’t think they have done anything wrong. The Pharisee has no sense of the power of forgiveness, or what the mission of Jesus to earth is really about. They do not respond with love, but with indifference and rejection to God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus.
2. FORGIVENESS AND SALVATION ARE BORN OF FAITH (Luke 7:40-50)
a. Luke 7:41-43 – Two men owed money: Significant indebtedness was common in the first century in Judea. The factors included wealthy landowners leasing land to poor peasants as share croppers and then demanding a large percentage of the profits. Along with 35-40% of agricultural production income sapped by tolls, taxes, and required tithes to the Temple, constant pressure was on farmers. In a drought or famine, a small farmer could easily lose everything he owned to a rich overlord. Major famines hit in 25 BC and AD 46. A denarius was a day’s wage, so two years repayment vs. two months repayment were forgiven. Since Aramaic has no word for thanks/gratitude, we may take “Which will love him more?” with “Which will be more thankful?” Sh’mon feigns indifference, but Jesus speaks with irony, “You have judged correctly.”
b. APPLICATION: The important part of the parable is that the woman’s actions do not earn her forgiveness. It is rather her spontaneous devotion to Jesus, being conscious of being forgiven already. By announcing the woman’s sins forgiven Jesus states what is already true. The woman’s love proved she had been forgiven. Love comes only in response to God’s working in our lives.
c. Luke 7:44-46 – Water, a kiss, oil: While the host may not have been required to perform these actions, at least the washing of feet was considered hospitality (Gen 18:4). Simon could have had a servant wash Jesus’ feet, certainly not himself (John 13). While a kiss was a common form of greeting, it was not necessary, as well anointing the head. The point is that unbelieving Simon did nothing exceptional for Jesus, but acted with relative indifference to his guest. In contrast, the believing woman went far beyond normal hospitality: washing his feet not with even water and towel, but with her tears and hair, kissing him not on the cheek but on his feet, and anointing his feet not with olive oil but with costly perfume.
d. APPLICATION: The people of Jesus’ day would have assume that the religious Pharisees had the greatest love for God, but Jesus, in his characteristic irony, praises not the pious Pharisee but instead a notorious sinner for her great love. Luke teaches us that loving God does not mean “doing religious things” to earn our way to him, but gratefully accepting the free gift of salvation offered through his Son Jesus Christ.
e. Luke 7:47-50 – Priests could pronounce God’s forgiveness after a sin offering, and Jesus takes the role of a priest here and pronounces forgiveness over her. So who is this fellow who presumes to forgive sins? In Isaiah 43:25, it is Adonai himself whom the prophet quotes as saying, “I, even I, am he who blots out your own transgressions for my own sake.”
f. ILLUSTRATION: Charlotte Elliott was bedridden as a woman in her early thirties. Once a vibrant, active young woman, she felt useless in her weakened condition and often endured terrible bouts of depression. During one of those dark periods, her family was helping her pastor brother raise funds for a Christian school, and she lay in bed wondering whether she could ever give anything of value to the Lord. In the midst of her despair, she realized Jesus found value in her just as she was. So relieved, she wrote a song that has brought generations to Christ, “Just As I Am.” Just as I am, tho tossed about / With many a conflict, many a doubt,/ Fightings within and fears without,/ O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
 Balmforth, Clarendon Bible, 173, found in F.F. Bruce, gen. ed., International Bible Commentary, 1199. (1) The Person: She is a sinner (Luke), a woman (Matt/Mark), and Mary of Bethany (John); (2) The Location: It happened in apparently in Capernaum at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke), at Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper (Matt/Mark), and at Bethany in honor of Lazarus; (3) The Time: during the Galilean ministry (Luke), Holy Week (Matt/Mark), six days before Passover (John); (4) The Objection: Jesus not a real prophet (Luke), a waste of money (Matt/Mark/John); (5) The Objector: Simon (Luke), some present (Matt./Mark), Judas Iscariot (John).