Have you been in a position where you just couldn’t catch a break? You were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t? Jesus spent His whole life like that. The religious establishment had condemned John the Baptist and said he was crazy for the lifestyle he lived (locusts, honey, camelhair, etc.). Then Jesus came and did not eschew comforts and hung out with people they didn’t like and they railed against Him as a libertine.
In Luke 7:33, just before our focal passage, Jesus says,
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
So, having been called a drunkard, glutton and friend of tax collectors (that was really the worst) by the religious establishment, He accepts an invitation to dine from one of those worthies. One might logically expect that, having now agreed to dine with the “right” crowd, he would be invited with open arms.
Wrong. He is treated shabbily. Luke 7:44-46 lists the breaches of the rules of hospitality committed by Simon on the occasion of Jesus visit: no water for His feet, no greeting kiss, and no oil for his head. These would have been customary for an honored guest, both symbolic and practical for welcome and comfort. Jesus received none of them.
No water to wash the dirt from His feet(and other things from the street in a time when animals were used for transport and when sewers were open). No water for the symbolic purification of the Jews. Jesus feet were ceremonially unclean as well. No greeting kiss indicating welcome and esteem. No oil for His head, a practical cleansing that made the guests face and hair shine and had aromatics in it and a ceremonial anointing as well.
Why would Simon invite Jesus to dinner and omit the niceties? Did he think someone like Jesus would not notice? Did he forget? I think those two conclusions are not possible because of who Simon was. Rather I think his actions (or inactions) were a calculated insult. I think Simon intended that Jesus learn His “place” by pretending to consult Him without honoring Him. Do we put God in his “place”?
On the other hand there was an uninvited guest at the dinner party, a woman who had “lead a sinful life” (whatever that means). It was not uncommon at these dinners of the day, perhaps held on a shady veranda, semi-outside, in the cool of the evening, for people who were not invited to gather around to hear the conversation (there was no cable or internet after all).
So this “sinful” woman was in attendance with an alabaster jar of perfume. Now alabaster to the ancients was calcite, a carbonate mineral, usually a trigonal-rhombohedral crystal with a Mohs hardness of 3, a specific gravity of 2.71 and colors that range from none or white through shades of gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown or even black. (Wiki is wonderful). It was highly prized in the ancient world and the bottle itself was expensive indicating the perfume it contained was expensive.
All through the dinner the woman wept, washing Jesus’ feet (pretty much the most despised and reviled part of His body) with her tears, drying them with her hair, and pouring the perfume on them. Could there be a greater contrast between the actions of Simon and the woman? Jesus gives you the rundown in case you missed it.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
It was in this context that Jesus told the parable of the Two Debtors.
Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?
Simon answers correctly that the one who was forgiven the bigger debt will love the creditor more. And Jesus is quick to apply the parable telling Simon exactly who is who.
And then He does something really remarkable. He tells the woman her sins are forgiven. Are the parallels of the story easy for you to see? The Jews said they wanted their Messiah, but when He came how was He treated? The religious establishment of the day was all about the Law, but did they keep it in their hearts? Did they keep it well at all?
And for us today:
- Is faith, unexpressed in repentant actions really faith?
- Which comes first, faith or forgiveness?
- Are we more interested in having a “civilized” dinner with Jesus, or are we interested in repentance? Which is Jesus interested in?
And last, what would a life spent weeping over Jesus feet look like? Here’s one guy’s take: