Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jesus Forgives Sin

The woman who had entered Simon the Pharisee's home to perfume Jesus' feet was a notorious sinner. Traditionally she has been called a prostitute, but the text is not so specific. She was probably not Mary Magdalene, who was introduced after this story.

In the ancient world it apparently was common to allow people to enter the home where a meal was being held in honor of a major teacher, or speaker. Nobody was shocked that the woman came in. What scandalized everyone is that she got close to Jesus and He let her anoint Him.

What she did came at great personal cost
1) The perfume she used was both precious and expensive. Anointing ran deep in Jewish custom, being practiced at civic feasts and used for the purification of priests or the tabernacle. If this perfume was nard, it would have cost three hundred denarii, or about a year's salary, per pound!

2) Her tears were an expression of overwhelming gratitude, love and joy. She already knew of His forgiveness

3) Undoing her hair was culturally shocking. Symbolically, she lay herself entirely bare before the Lord, kissing His feet with a tender intimacy that offended every person in the room save one...the Lord Himself.

Simon the Pharisee expected such brazen behavior from the woman, but he found Jesus' acceptance of this worship both outrageous and intolerable.

What he thought revealed the depth of self-righteousness in his heart: If this man Jesus really were a prophet, then he would know what kind of woman was touching him, and He wouldn't have allowed it.

Obviously, Simon said to himself, Jesus is no prophet because look at this sickening display being enacted right here in his banquet hall. Jesus not only had not rebuked the woman, He in fact seemed to be enjoying her kisses. Simon concluded that Jesus must be of a very low class Himself.

Pharisees maintained that if spiritual people were to guard purity and testimony, then they certainly could not associate with sinners.

Jesus saw the situation completely differently.
1) Simon doubted Jesus was a prophet because He had allowed a notorious sinner to cover Him with her affection. But Jesus proved He was a seer by discerning Simon's secret thoughts.

2) Simon scorned Jesus' lack of rebuke towards sin, yet Jesus gently rebuked Simon's sin with His parable.

3) Simon thought Jesus to be a very low class of person, yet by forgiving sin Jesus revealed Himself to be of the very highest order, God Himself.

4) Simon had no love nor appreciation for Jesus because he had no sense of personal sin. On the contrary, Simon now viewed himself to be far Jesus' superior. So Jesus showed that appreciation and love flow from the one who has been forgiven a great debt.
Great forgiveness provides the opportunity for great love
As one author put it, "When God forgives a notorious sinner for much sin, the realization of such bountiful forgiveness means the potential for great love."

Simon showed how little he thought of Jesus
- By not having His feet washed.
- Simon did not even greet Jesus with the customary Mediterranean kiss on each cheek shown to friends and welcome guests,
- Let alone put oil on Jesus head, as he would have with an honored dignitary.

But this woman had
- Washed Jesus' feet with her own tears.
- Far more than the ceremonial greeting, she had covered Jesus' feet with her kisses.
- And rather than anoint His head with customary oil, she had poured out rich and costly nard on His feet.

What the woman had done went far beyond the call of custom and good manners (which Simon the Pharisee had failed to meet even the minimum for).

In contrast to Simon's desultory throughtlessness, her actions reflected heartfelt gratitude, tender love, overflowing joy and a deep sense of humility.

Jesus then explained that this woman's sins were forgiven because of her great love for Him. It was not her works which saved her. It was her love, which was expressed in these acts.

This was even more offensive and troubling! Bad enough that Jesus would receive this known sinner in a Pharisee's home. Far, far worse that He should presume the place of God and dare to announce her sins forgiven!

The Pharisees knew the significance behind Jesus' statement. They knew no mere man had the right to forgive sin, so they asked each other, behind trembling hands, "Who is this who even forgives sin?"

If Jesus had the authority to forgive sin, then he was far more than a prophet. They didn't dare to even form in their minds the implications of what Jesus had said.

So Jesus made it all the more clear for them by saying to the woman -- and to no one esle in that room -- "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

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