Sunday 18th October. This week we looked at Luke 7:36-50.
For those MPs who had hoped that the expenses scandal had run its course during the long summer recess, the past few days have been a severe disappointment. It seems that once more dark clouds are gathering over the houses of Parliament as an increasing number of members jump before they’re pushed choose to stand down at the next election. Our politicians are under the spotlight and not in a positive way, as their expense claims and everything else for that matter come under public scrutiny.
From reading the gospels it becomes clear that the Lord Jesus was constantly in the spotlight. He was followed and harassed by crowds seeking a free meal or to witness a miraculous sign and analysed and challenged by religious leaders. In today’s passage, we read that Jesus attended a meal at the invitation of Simon the Pharisee. That fact that he was willing to eat the meal while his every word and action was observed and assessed, suggests that here is a man willing to be scrutinised. Luke invites us to look at Jesus once more. Before we look at the incident itself, there are a couple of things to clear up.
Firstly, in the first century, guests would recline on couches with their feet away from the table at a meal. Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper may be a wonderful work of art but it is inaccurate in that the Lord Jesus and his disciples would never have sat on chairs around a table. In the incident we are discussing, the mechanics of the woman anointing the Lord’s feet make more sense when pictured with dinner guests reclining rather than seated on upright chairs. Incidentally, the poor were allowed access to great houses to finish off what was left after the meal.
Secondly, all the gospel writers record an incident where the Lord is anointed by a woman. Matthew and Mark’s accounts seem to be the same incident and John’s record is easily reconciled with them. Luke’s account is different in many ways and most commentators maintain that this is an earlier and separate event.
Messiah on Trial
- The Pharisees were a legalistic Jewish sect. They were serious about the Law, they were also correct in much of their understanding of heaven, angels and the afterlife. There were also heavily criticised by Jesus for their hypocrisy.
- They were already watching Jesus in order to accuse him – Luke 6:7. The tension between the Pharisees and Jesus is increasing at this point and will culminate with them plotting against him. They were prime movers with the Sadducees in his arrest and trial.
- The woman’s character was well known in the town (Luke 7:37). Luke is implying the woman is a prostitute. No Rabbi would be anywhere near her.
- Simon’s thinking was logical “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39). For him the holy and the sinful must be apart and fact that Jesus seems unaware of the woman’s character is proof that he is no prophet.
- Jesus invites scrutiny, both Simon’s and ours. He went to the house knowing this would be no relaxing meal with friends.
Messiah on a Mission
- Simon’s thinking may have been logical but it was fatally flawed. He is ignorant of Christ mission.
- Jesus is a prophet (and much more), he knows what kind of woman she is, he is prepared to allow her to touch him and he even knows what Simon is thinking.
- The scandal is not that the woman was at the meal, it was that she drew attention to herself. While she waited, unseen all was fine. To move from the grandstand and onto the pitch was another matter.
- Jesus has come for those who are ignored. Surely, the only way to eat a meal while the poor stood around and waited for the scraps was to ignore them. Jesus makes a habit of speaking to the marginalised and touching the untouchable.
- Jesus is the friend of sinners. The criticism levelled at him in verse 34 and elsewhere is a lifeline for us.
- He has come “to seek and to save what was lost” – Luke 19:10. Many books have a single verse that sums up their content. For me this verse is the key that unlocks Luke’s gospel.
Messiah on a Cross
- “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49). The Pharisees were right to state that only God can forgive sin (Luke 5:21)
- By saying “Your sins are forgiven” Jesus is placing himself in danger (Luke 5:20-21). Blasphemy was a capital offence for the Jews.
- Sin leads to death (Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23, James 1:15). From the first rebellion in the garden, the inevitable path from sin to death is well trodden
- “Numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37, Isaiah 53:12). Jesus quotes the prophecy himself just before the cross. The prophecy is laden with references to the substitutionary nature of the suffering that Christ would endure. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
- Jesus can forgive sin because he will also deal with it on the cross
- The woman is saved by faith (Luke 7:50). The point of the Lord’s story is that our debt is too big for us to work it off; we have to come to Christ. Salvation is available not through doing things but by believing in Christ and his power to forgive.
- Jesus tells her twice (Luke 7:47&48). I am so grateful that the Lord Jesus repeats the wonderful phrase to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven”. So many of us struggle in the area of assurance, hear the word of Christ once more, “Your sins are forgiven”. When we come to him in repentance and faith our sin is forgiven.
Messiah on the Throne
- The woman’s worship was not cheap. One pound of nard would have cost a year’s wages to say nothing of the personal embarrassment involved when in humility she anointed Christ.
- She understood more than the so-called experts. For all his knowledge, Simon completely missed the point. The woman in simple faith knew that Jesus could change her life and bring forgiveness. There may have been big gaps in her understanding of theology but she did know that the answer was in Jesus.
- Her response was appropriate. Extravagant and reckless, criticised and belittled, heartfelt and real in stark contrast to the hypocrisy around her. This is real worship.
- What is our response? Paul writes “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
- Isaac Watts in his beautiful hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” puts it so well
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.