Of course on the one hand, Jesus might have been expected to enjoy the hospitality of religiously minded people. It seems like they would be natural friends and allies. On the other hand, almost anyone who knows much about the life of Jesus knows how often He criticized the Pharisees, and how bitterly they criticized Him for refusing to follow the traditions that they so highly revered. So, when Jesus accepted the invitation of Simon the Pharisee to dinner (Luke 7:36-50), it is a bit surprising; you just know that an aggressive religious discussion is about to break out. And who wants that?
Things start off poorly. The ordinary niceties of hospitality, the common demonstrations of respect for a guest, are completely overlooked. Not only was there no one to wash Jesus’ feet, there was not even a basin of water offered, so that Jesus could wash His own. No kiss of greeting (hand shaking) was offered. No oil for the head of the Guest was provided. All indications seem to be that Simon’s invitation was little more than a perfunctory religious obligation of hospitality to a traveling rabbi. But then…
A woman quietly came into Simon’s house, having heard that Jesus was there. She was a sinner, probably a prostitute, and she had heard that Jesus was dining at Simon’s. She doesn’t introduce herself to Him; she just weeps on His feet behind Him, enough that wiping the tears off His feet with her long hair seems to be enough to wash them. She kisses His feet, and then taking an alabaster vial of perfume she anoints them. And here’s where the aggressive religious discussion breaks out.
Simon doesn’t say a word, but he thinks to himself, If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner. But thoughts are as open to Jesus as speaking them out loud, so Jesus responds with a simple parable about appreciation—Luke 7:41, 42 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” It was a simple question and Simon easily answered it—to his own detriment. Of course the one who was forgiven the most would love the most. Oops! Simon just ratted himself out.
There’s something for us to chew on here, too. The parable and its question were prompted by the drastic contrast of Simon’s lack of ordinary respect due a common human guest and the lavish and moving shows of love and respect given by the sinful woman. Jesus’ point was that Simon clearly appreciated Him little, while the woman clearly loved and appreciated Him much. Love and appreciation, as we all know, are always demonstrated by respect and acts of love. Simon didn’t realize how sinful and how much in need of forgiveness that he was; the woman, on the other hand, knew all too well how desperately she needed forgiveness of sin—and it showed.
- Are you nearer to being like the woman or Simon?
- Is your worship—is your Christianity—a minimal, perfunctory offer of service; or is it a loving, passionate, respect-filled, eagerly obedient outgrowth of appreciation?
- Does our casualness, our lack of attentiveness, our minimalist offer of service in worship and discipleship betray something we’d like to deny? Perhaps, that we sometimes forget how much we’ve been forgiven and how much we still depend on His grace?
- Have there been too few tears and too many ho-hums?
- Has there been too little broken-heartedness and too much “I’ve got it covered”?
- Has there been too little wiping Jesus’ feet with our hair and too much wiping our consciences with excuses?
- Have you offered the Lord too many table scraps and not enough vials of perfume?
You see while we thought we were following Jesus into Simon’s house, we were actually following Him into a place of self-evaluation.