A Woman to Be Remembered

“Her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” —Luke 7:36-50

THE miracles at Capernaum and at Nain spread the fame of Jesus far and near in Israel, and led a prominent Pharisee named Simon to press upon the Master an invitation for dinner. Not that Simon was a disciple and believer, but rather that as a prominent man he posed as a liberal one also, affecting that although fully content with himself and the expectations of the Pharisees he had nothing to lose nor to fear from the new and wonderful Teacher. Jesus accepted the invitation, and, after the manner of the time, reclined at the table with the Pharisee and the other guests. At an earlier date the Jews had been required to sit upon the floor cross-legged when eating, but had changed this for the Persian custom of a sloping couch table, where the guests reclined resting upon the left arm while feeding themselves with the right hand, the feet extending back from the table portion of the couch.

Privacy in the home is still unusual in the East. Neighbors, friends, visitors, feel at liberty to come and go much as they please, sometimes coming in to converse with the guests while dinner is being served. Thus it was that while Jesus and others were at dinner, a woman of the city—a disreputable character—came into the room with a vial of very precious ointment in her hand, walked to the back of the table directly to the feet of Jesus. Her intention evidently was to anoint his feet with the ointment, but before she had succeeded in breaking the seals and unstopping the vial, her pent-up feelings found expression in a gush of tears which rained upon the Master’s feet—an indignity where she had intended honor. Quickly unfastening her hair she used it as a towel to dry the feet, and then, as expressive of her love and sympathy and adoration, while wiping the feet she kissed them repeatedly (for so the Greek text implies.) Then, opening the alabaster vase, she poured upon the blessed feet the sweet, odorous ointment as originally intended.

The Pharisee said nothing, but in his heart concluded that he now had proof that Jesus was not a prophet, else he would have known intuitively that the woman was a sinner, and would have repulsed her approach even to his feet, and would have denounced her and her sinful life in no measured terms. Simon, however, was measuring the Lord by his own standard, for he appreciated not the loving sympathy of Jesus’ heart, and that, although he recognized the woman as a sinner, he had compassion upon her—especially in view of the evidence she gave of shame, contrition, and reformation. The incident furnishes us with a blessed illustration of our Lord’s sympathy for those who come unto him accepting his mercy and love and forgiveness, however unworthy they may be of his fellowship.

Jesus answered Simon’s unexpressed thought with a little parable concerning two debtors, the one owing his master five hundred pence, the other owing fifty pence. When both parties were forgiven, which debtor would appreciate the more the creditor’s generosity? Which would have the more love for him? The question was addressed to Pharisee Simon, who answered that he supposed the one who had been forgiven most. This off-hand answer seems to imply that Simon did not, up to this moment, realize the bearing of the parable upon his own case and that of the woman—that he represented the debtor owing fifty pence, the woman, the greater sinner, owing five hundred.

A sin is a sin, a violation of the divine law, whether it be in a great matter or in a lesser matter. We are not to understand that in God’s sight there is any difference as to enormities of sin, but as here illustrated, that some are more deeply involved in it than are others—ten times as deeply. As for God, it was just as easy for him to forgive the greater sins as to forgive the lesser ones, provided the required conditions were met by the sinner.

Our lesson illustrates this, and shows the attitude of those who are in condition to be approved of the Lord—to be forgiven. The parable here supposes the desire and request for forgiveness on the part of the debtors and the willingness of the Lord to cancel the debt for both. In the illustration before us we see Simon indifferent because he felt that his sin was less, the woman repentant because she felt that her sin was great.

Simon had been congratulating himself that he was honoring the Master by having him to dinner because of his own honorable station in society, and that this poor woman was dishonoring him because of her inferior station and evil reputation. Our Lord reverses the picture before his mind by calling his attention to the fact that he had really neglected the usual hospitalities of the country as respects an honored guest, while the woman had made up for his lack. It was the custom of the country for a host to receive his guest with distinguished attention, to embrace him, to kiss him on the cheek when he entered, to have his head anointed with perfumed ointment and to have a servant wash his feet.

Our Lord, in no unkind terms, called Simon’s attention to the fact that he neither gave him an anointing, or kissed him, nor provided the washing for his feet, but that this poor woman had washed his feet with her tears, had kissed them, and had anointed them with a very precious ointment. The Master associated these facts of the moment with his parable, and declared that this was an indication of greater love which the woman bore and of her greater appreciation of his message of forgiveness and mercy. Her course intimated that she had accepted the Lord’s declaration, and so now he probably formally declared to her. “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”

What words could have been more sweet or more precious to the poor woman’s ears? Surely she appreciated that declaration more than anything else our Lord could have said unto her. And so it is with all who approach the Lord as their Savior from the right standpoint. We do indeed rejoice subsequently to hear our Lord’s message respecting the glory, honor, and immortality which we may attain through his assistance, but the first message to every one of us must be, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”—otherwise we could have no peace, no joy, no hope of a glorious future. In other words, every other hope, every other blessing, is based upon this one—the forgiveness of sins.

Let us make sure not only that we have thus come to the Lord recognizing our sins, manifesting our repentance for them, but let us be sure also that we have accepted the divine grace in and through the blood of Christ, and that we are trusting not in any righteousness of our own, but that we wholly lean upon the favors secured to us through him who loved us and bought us with his precious blood. Upon the strength of this faith we may bring our tears and our alabaster boxes of perfume of daily endeavor to serve and to please him who has done so much for us, but without our recognition of our sins and of his forgiveness we could bring nothing acceptable to him. In this connection also, let us remember the Master’s words to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.”—Excerpt from Reprints, p. 3761

Dawn Bible Students Association
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