Luke 7:36-50 Forgiveness and worship (part 1)
Luke 7:36-50 tells the story of a sinful woman who worshiped Jesus by anointing his feet while he was eating at the home of Simon the pharisee. The woman is an example of one who truly worships the Lord Jesus, as she wipes her tears from his feet with her hair. Simon is an example of failure to worship. What does this scripture passage teach us about how we can worship the Lord with a right heart?
The main thrust of Luke’s account of this incident is that experiencing God’s forgiveness is an important key to having a right heart in worship.
The contrast between the sinful woman and Simon
Both Simon and the woman were offering something to Jesus. Simon was offering the meal. The woman, on the other hand, was there to offer Jesus the alabaster flask of ointment. But as the story plays out, the contrast in Simon’s heart and the woman’s heart is striking, and what reveals this difference is what happened that night that neither one of them intended.
When the woman brought her alabaster flask, I don’t believe that she intended to break down in Jesus’ presence, weeping. This wasn’t some orchestrated performance. But there she was–a “sinner”–in the presence of the man who had come to be called “the friend of sinners”, and she couldn’t contain herself! And the love in her heart was laid bare as she worshiped the Lord Jesus.
Simon as well never intended to have to deal with the presence of a sinful woman at his dinner party doing something that he considered scandalous. And even though his heart isn’t publicly displayed like the woman’s, his thoughts reveal what is in him. Verse 39. He’s thinking: If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.
The difference between these two hearts is in their FOCUS. The woman is focused on Jesus. She is in his presence. She loves him–“the friend of sinners.” She isn’t thinking… “is he going to like my offering?” “Am I doing this right?” “Will he be impressed with me?” No, she is broken. She is overwhelmed by the mercy and kindness that characterizes the person of Jesus in his relationships with people like her.
Simon, on the other hand, is focused on himself. “Jesus should know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him.” He is unconsciously making a comparison between himself and the woman: “I am not the sort of person that this woman is.” “Jesus should know that she is a “sinner”. In other words, “I am not a sinner,” at least not in the sense that this woman is!”
Both Simon and the woman brought an offering, but one had a heart focused on Jesus, the other was focused on himself.
I think we all know how easy it is to perform an act of worship, whether it is in a worship service at church, in our personal devotional time, or some other religious activity, and our focus is not on Jesus, but on ourselves; and even when we are analyzing and criticizing others, our focus is still on us.
The source of a right heart in worship: An experience of forgiveness
Jesus reveals what is in Simon’s heart by telling a three-sentence parable in verses 41-42.
A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?
Simon, apparently oblivious to what Jesus is doing, answers correctly, “The one who was forgiven more debt.”
Jesus with this parable is showing Simon the source of a right heart in worship. And the meaning of the parable is clear:
The greater the experience of forgiveness,
the greater the love that will be shown to the forgiver.
We know from other Scripture that Jesus is not comparing here the SIN DEBT of Simon with the sin debt of the woman. Rom. 3 says it over and over: “No one understands…no one seeks for God. ALL have turned aside; together they have become worthless…for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Simon is not less a sinner than the woman is. If that were the case, Jesus wouldn’t confront him at all about his heart problem, Simon would simply be worshiping in proportion to what he had been forgiven.
What Jesus is comparing here is the EXPERIENCE of forgiveness. Both Simon and the woman owe an infinite sin debt to God. The difference is that the woman has seen her sin and received Jesus’ forgiveness, and Simon hasn’t seen it!
Look also at what Jesus says in v. 47
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.
Jesus isn’t saying here that the woman earned forgiveness through her great display of love to Jesus. That’s what it sounds like in most English versions. But Jesus said the exact opposite in his parable. The love that the debtor showed to the moneylender was because he had been forgiven the debt, not something that he did to earn the forgiveness.
One author paraphrased Jesus’ words this way: She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. The greater the experience of forgiveness, the greater the love that will be shown to the forgiver.
Both Simon and the woman have brought something to Jesus. Simon offers a dinner party, the woman offers the alabaster jar of perfume, but because her heart is right, and because of her greater experience of forgiveness, the woman HONORS Jesus because she truly loves him, whereas Simon DISHONORS him.
Jesus points this out in vs. 44-46. He mentions three specific ways that Simon dishonored him and the woman honored him. All three of the things that Jesus mentions were common practices in that day. They were simple ways of showing hospitality to a guest: washing his feet, greeting him with a kiss, and anointing the head with oil.
When Jesus points out that Simon did not offer these things, he isn’t complaining about Simon’s lack of manners. He is trying to show Simon his heart problem. Simon failed to honor Jesus because his heart was wrong. The woman on the other hand, without even consciously trying, honored Jesus because her heart was filled with love. She washed his feet…. with her tears. She anointed him… with the perfume that she brought. And her kisses, far from being a mere formality, were the humble kisses of a forgiven sinner.
What Jesus is showing us is that when our heart is filled with love for him, worship is not about “getting it right”–raising your hands and dancing, or not raising your hands and not dancing–It is about a genuine honoring of our Savior, Jesus, the friend of sinners. And when our heart is right and filled with love for him, he will be honored. Our focus will be on him, and not on ourselves. We will do the right things in his sight, even if they aren’t right in the sight of others.
I’ll have more to say on this passage in future posts.