Jesus’ Life and Ministry
A Lesson in Mercy
JESUS may still be in Nain, where he recently resurrected a widow’s son, or perhaps he is visiting a city nearby. A Pharisee named Simon desires a closer look at the one who is performing such remarkable works. So he invites Jesus to have a meal with him.
Viewing the occasion as an opportunity to minister to those present, Jesus accepts the invitation, even as he has accepted invitations to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Yet, when he enters Simon’s house, Jesus does not receive the cordial attention usually accorded guests.
Sandal-clad feet become hot and dirty due to traveling dusty Galilean roads, and it is a customary act of hospitality to wash the feet of guests with cool water. But Jesus’ feet are not washed when he arrives. Neither does he receive a welcoming kiss, which is common etiquette. And the customary oil of hospitality is not provided for his hair.
During the course of the meal, while the guests are reclining at the table, an uninvited woman quietly enters the room. She is known in the city to be living an immoral life. Likely she has heard Jesus’ teachings, including his invitation for ‘all those who are loaded down to come to him for refreshment.’ And being deeply moved by what she has seen and heard, she has now sought out Jesus.
The woman comes up behind Jesus at the table and kneels at his feet. As her tears fall on his feet, she wipes them off with her hair. She also takes perfumed oil from her flask, and as she tenderly kisses his feet, she pours the oil on them. Simon watches with disapproval. “This man, if he were a prophet,” he reasons, “would know who and what kind of woman it is that is touching him, that she is a sinner.”
Perceiving his thinking, Jesus says: “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher, say it!” he responds.
“Two men were debtors to a certain lender,” Jesus begins. “The one was in debt for five hundred denarii, but the other for fifty. When they did not have anything with which to pay back, he freely forgave them both. Therefore, which of them will love him the more?”
“I suppose,” says Simon, perhaps with an air of indifference at the seeming irrelevance of the question, “it is the one to whom he freely forgave the more.”
“You judged correctly,” Jesus says. And then turning to the woman, he says to Simon: “Do you behold this woman? I entered into your house; you gave me no water for my feet. But this woman wet my feet with her tears and wiped them off with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but this woman, from the hour that I came in, did not leave off tenderly kissing my feet. You did not grease my head with oil; but this woman greased my feet with perfumed oil.”
The woman has thus given evidence of heartfelt repentance for her immoral past. So Jesus concludes: “By virtue of this, I tell you, her sins, many though they are, are forgiven, because she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Jesus is in no way excusing or condoning immorality. Rather, this incident reveals his compassionate understanding of people who make mistakes in life but who then manifest that they are sorry for these and so come to Christ for relief. Providing true refreshment to the woman, Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go your way in peace.” Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 11:28-30.
◆ How is Jesus received by his host Simon?
◆ Who seeks Jesus out, and why?
◆ What illustration does Jesus provide, and how does he apply it?