Faith, Love and Forgiveness

Luke 7:36-50

Jesus he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This story shows us the difference between miserly and extravagant love. Simon, a Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner probably did so out of curiosity. He had likely heard of Jesus’ teaching, and how he healed the servant of the centurion, and raised the widow’s son who had died. So perhaps he had to see for himself who Jesus was, and if any of what he had heard was true.

The ancient Jewish customs of hospitality were well known among the Pharisees. In the book of Genesis, there is a story of Abraham and his servant Laban. Abraham sent Laban to find a wife for his son Isaac, and when he had found Rebekah, he went to her father’s house to meet him, and tell him about his quest. When he arrived, Rebekah’s father had the camels fed and watered, and gave Laban water to wash his feet. They all wore sandals in those days, and as you can imagine, their feet became very dirty when they traveled. Getting water for one’s dirty feet was a great thing! They had no SPF 40 sunscreen in those days, either, so getting some soothing olive oil on the face was another nice thing.

It’s odd that the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house for dinner did not do these deeds of common courtesy for his guest. Perhaps he really did not like Jesus, and was looking for ways to trap him and discredit him. The opportunity for that presented itself soon enough.

A woman who had seen Jesus enter the house, followed him, and with no concern for anyone else began to worship him. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. Then she kissed his feet and anointed them. These were simply shameless acts of devotion. Notice that she did not say a word to Jesus or his host. She didn’t have to. Jesus knew what was in her heart, and she didn’t have to ask for forgiveness.

The Pharisee began to scoff at Jesus. He said if Jesus were really a prophet he would know who the woman was, a sinner. He may have heard of Jesus and the things he did, but he was not a believer. He was skeptical of any of the things Jesus had done, like healing the sick and raising the dead. He did not want to believe. If Jesus was willing to allow this woman to wash, and to kiss, and to anoint his feet, then he must be a fraud. Simon did not realize that this woman was exactly the kind of person Jesus came to save.

This woman was a repentant sinner. Without words, she worshiped Jesus with her actions. She didn’t beg. She didn’t say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me!” Her actions were enough. The Pharisee took no such action with Jesus because he thought he didn’t need forgiveness. He was a strict follower of the Law of Moses. He attended the festivals, said the appropriate prayers, and made the correct sacrifices. And yet he did not recognize God the Son in his own house! Instead he scoffed at Jesus.

Jesus knew his heart, of course. He asked Simon a question about two debtors, and Simon knew the answer. The one who is forgiven more is the more grateful, and loves more, but the one who is forgiven little, loves little. The woman who had many sins had the greater love, because Jesus forgave her sins. Those who were at the table did not believe in Jesus either. They said, “Who is this who even forgive sins!?” In other words, “Who does he think he is! God himself?”

Jesus ignores this, and says one more thing to the woman, “Your faith has saved you: go in peace.” This is crucial to the Christian life. We are saved by faith, not by works of the Law of Moses, which the Pharisee was so sure of. His attendance at festivals, saying the right prayers, making the right sacrifices were not going to do it. The example of the woman in this story is the one we should follow.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith is a gift from God, not something you have to work for. You have only to accept it. The woman accepted it without asking for it. She saw Jesus and she believed.

Then Jesus said those words that resonate in our hearts: “Go in peace.” We, too have peace with God our Father because of what Jesus did for us. He forgave our sins, too, because we repented of them. Turn from your sins and run to Jesus. Show him your gratitude with extravagant love and devotion. When you wake in the morning, thank him for another day to serve him, and to grow closer to him. Then at night on your bed thank him for his love for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the salvation of your soul unto everlasting life. Amen.

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