The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the problems with the Gospel accounts is the fact that we have similar events recorded in the Gospels, that may or may not be the same event. In John 12 we have the account of Mary the sister of Lazarus anointing Jesus’ feet. Though the event seems the same, it probably is not. For that took place in the home of Lazarus, after Lazarus was raised from the dead. Here, in Luke 7, the event takes place in the home of a Pharisee who does not appear to be a follower of Jesus. Further, the event in John 12 clearly takes place in the week before Palm Sunday. This incident appears to be taking place much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. So Jesus has his feet washed with ointment or perfume and dried with a woman’s hair more than once.
Culture can be cruel. Part of the cruelty is that it is about what’s on the outside. In the 1920's a man wanted to criticize the lack of charity in the world. His name was Harold Grey. He created a comic strip about a little orphan girl. Often the strip lampooned the rich for their lack of concern for their fellow man. The strip was a hit and Grey himself was a popular guest at many parties. He met many of the real life wealthy. His own view of the wealthy began to change. And so did the comic strip. The girl was adopted by a wealthy man named Oliver Warbucks. Most people just remember him as Daddy Warbucks, the wealthy man who adopted Little Orphan Annie. What Grey learned is that reality is often different than perception. Many of the wealthy were in fact, kind, honest and caring people. But many did not see or understand this. Thus, to this day, we see the wealthy, as a group, pilloried in popular culture.
In Jesus day, there was a culture that then, like now, focused on the outward, and often ignored reality. Pharisaic Judaism focused upon ones place in the community. It focused on one’s outward piety and character. Reality was often different. It was a culture where the pillars of the community were often rotten to the core. They would make a great show of praying several times day. The would literally have Bible verses sown into their clothing. Yet, they would, behind closed doors engage in great debauchery and often would cruelly oppress the poor, whom they were supposed to be helping. The Pharisees would look down at those who were perceived to be less faithful than they were. In many cases, they looked down upon those whom they sinned against. This is true to this day. Research conducted in Israel has shown that the more orthodox a rabbi is the more likely he will visit a brothel. So here we have a proud Pharisee and a sinful woman.
Scripture does not tell us what this woman’s particular sins were. But the fact that she was publicly known as a sinner suggests that she was probably a prostitute. This was a culture that forced women into such a life. Often those who most railed against such women, were themselves the most guilty. It is likely that this Pharisee had himself sinned against the woman in one way or another, either by direct act, or by his indifference. Such women were often broken by their guilt and shame. They were desperate for some way out.
The woman anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. I think in any culture this would been seen as act of great humiliation. This woman was willing for humiliate herself before Christ. It was a way of approaching as a beggar, in fact less than a beggar. What does Christ do? He forgives her sins. Why was she forgiven? Because she trusted in Him. It is not her faith does the saving. It is the object of her faith. If her faith had been a rock, it would have been worthless. But she trusted in Christ. She was not disappointed.
This created a great stir among those at the dinner table. How could Jesus forgive someone their sins? Especially the sins of someone who was so great a sinner? The answer is simple. She asked. By her act of humiliation she was asking God’s forgiveness. But that doesn’t answer the first question. How can Christ forgive sins? Only God can forgive sins. This is because all sins are first and foremost committed against God. Thus David says in Psalm 51: “Against You only have I sinned.” Every sin we commit is a violation God’s divine law. Since all sins are committed against God, only God can forgive them. Not even a pastor can forgive sins of his own authority. Notice the words of the absolution - In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ. It’s like a judge who says by the authority vested in me by the state of Wisconsin... The pastor doesn’t forgive, Christ forgives through the pastor. But we are still dancing around the question voiced in our text. How can Jesus forgive? Only God can forgive. Well, who is Jesus saying that He is? Is He claiming to be a prophet. No. A prophet would speak like Nathan did to David - God has put away your sin. Christ says that He, of His own authority forgives sins. So what is He saying? Christ is saying that He’s God. Don’t let anyone deceive you with this nonsense that Jesus never claimed that He’s God. He’s making that claim right here. He can forgive sins because He is God.
Pharisees had a major problem with this. They didn’t understand sin. So I ask you, am I sinning while preaching this sermon? You would be tempted to say no, of course not. Preaching God’s word is a good thing. Indeed it is. But as a sinner, everything that I do is a sin. I can’t do anything good enough, perfect enough, with a pure enough heart to be truly good, of its own accord, before God. Everything I do is corrupted by sin. So the Pharisee speaks of this woman in our text as a sinner, but who were the sinners in that room? Everyone except Jesus. The problem was that the host and his guests did not understand that they were sinners. They all should have been groveling as Jesus’ feet begging for forgiveness. But they had lied to themselves, and convinced themselves that were without sin. Thus the woman is forgiven and the Pharisees at the banquet are not.
Jesus here shows compassion for this woman. He gives her exactly what she needs - forgiveness. It is significant to note that the early church, from the time of Pentecost took care of widows and orphans. Widows were, in essence, the first nuns. The purpose was two fold. First to help the women who were in need. Second, to remove the temptation from the men. This flows out of the reality that we are all sinners. We cannot escape from sin. But in Christ, we have perfect forgiveness. From this flows an empathy for others caught in sin. We understand the great good that Christ has done for us. This leads us to share that gift with others. So one of the ways the early church did that was by taking care of widows and orphans.
We live in a world that does not understand sin. The world thinks sin is a little thing. But sin is rebellion against God and a rejection of His law. It is not a small thing. Every person bears the curse of sin. No one is free from it. We are all sinners. Christ came to save sinners. Christ says to us, your sins are forgiven.