Such Great Love

“One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal.  When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in town.  She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment.  She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’  Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’  ‘Speak, Master,’ was the reply.  ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty.  They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both.  Which of them will love him more?’  ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose,’ answered Simon.  Jesus said, ‘You are right.’  Then he turned to the woman.  ‘Simon,’ he said, ‘you see this woman?  I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.  It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’  Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’  But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” – Luke 7:36-50

“Her sins, her many sins, MUST have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love,” Jesus says as he looks on the overflow of her heart.  I am so struck by how seriously he takes this woman’s experience of having been forgiven.  There is nothing in this particular story to suggest that Simon the Pharisee has it out for Jesus as some of the others do.  He treats Jesus with respect and has invited him into his home.  He is responsive to Jesus’ words to him.  Yet next to him we see this sinful woman.  The difference between them isn’t even presented as “he follows the rules and she doesn’t.”  The issue seems to be much more that Simon is respectable and the woman is not.  But in their own way, in their own capacity, they’ve both received him, and that’s what Jesus speaks into.

Simon sees a hellish person.  Naturally.  And Jesus?  Sometimes he tells a person to sin no more, but he doesn’t even say that to this woman.  Instead he reaffirms that her sins are, indeed, forgiven.  He sees by her overflow of love that she has experienced forgiveness already and has come with her vulnerable heart filled with his love to weep in relief over his feet.  If Simon had poured water over Jesus’ feet it would have been from a pitcher; the water this woman pours out is an overflow from her very heart.  I heard it speculated recently that as a prostitute, she probably had that oil for her services; yet that is what she brings, not letting her shame of what it says of her stop her, but bringing her real self to the one whose love for her she has deeply discovered is not fazed even by this.  Oh, there’s reason for scandal here, and we have to take sin extremely seriously.  But Jesus who knows the maliciousness and toxicity of sin better than anyone looks at this woman and knows she’s in a good place now, held fast by this love.  If sin is what separates us from God’s love, and his love is what saves us from sin, oh, she is saved indeed.  With this love welling up in her heart which she thought was too despicable to ever be seen, she’ll long for nothing but to stay where his love is after this.  The relationship with him is everything.

I don’t have the same story as this woman but I can confidently say that the more I bring nasty, despicable things in me to Jesus, the more I find that he still loves me, and the more captivated by him I am, and the more I can’t bear to live any way other than what will keep me closest to him.  His love saves, so simply.  We’re right in feeling the deadliness of our sin, but it’s so tempting to then try to hide it away because it’s so ugly.  That must be the one thing we don’t do.  This woman is such a witness of redemption.  In bringing our most despicable stuff to Jesus, we’ll actually find we’re loved in a way more spellbinding than we could ever have imagined, and the very receiving of love there is salvific. “Her sins, her many sins, MUST have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.”