I’ve been really struck by Luke 7 and the scene Luke records as Jesus eats at Simon’s house over the last week. It’s an image I can’t get out of my head, as proven by the fact that I kept returning to it when preaching and teaching 3 times over the weekend. As Luke sets the scene there’s lots of good religious people around, no doubt doing their best to give the impression that they are sorted. After all there is Jesus to impress and other religious leaders to keep up appearances in front of. Then suddenly a whispered hush spreads around the room and all eyes are drawn to the new figure who has entered, head bowed, tears dripping off the end of her nose. As the tension begins to build in the silence she bends down, and begins to wash Jesus feet with her tears, before using her hair as a towel to dry them and then breaking open her alabaster jar of perfume and anointing Jesus newly cleansed feet with perfume. As the beautiful smell of the perfume wafts around the room so doe the murmurings of discontent. How could he? Doesn’t he know who she is? What she’s done?
It’s a telling and tragic picture of the state of Israel in Jesus day, that someone in desperate need of the gospel of good news, of the hope that the prophets proclaimed, or God’s compassion did not find it among the religious elite of their day. Instead she is shunned, judged, condemned, and it’s made clear that this isn’t the place for her. I found myself wondering last week, and still thinking on it this week, as I re-read those words of Jesus to Simon in Luke 7 if they aren’t the same words Jesus would say to us in the UK?
The religious who gathered around Jesus at that meal would never have invited this woman. They would only have spoken words of judgment to her assuming they knew who she was, why she lived as she did, simply writing her off. But Jesus words are arresting as he addresses Simon: ” I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Simon’s problem was his little love – little love for God that led to little love for the lost because he thought he was pretty good, he didn’t really need much forgiveness. But the contrast between Jesus and him shows how very wrong he was. Simon’s self understanding is woefully deficient, he would have been able to speak about sin as a theological concept but he had no appreciation of the depths of his sin and the sheer scale and cost of forgiveness. Jesus confronts him with that deficiency in understanding.
It made me ponder on a number of questions. Are we overflowing in love or has our self-righteousness got in the way? Is the reason why we so often struggle to reach out to the poor and needy because we have forgotten that we are no different to them in our need and that the gospel offers us all freedom in Christ?
It also made me wonder how would I react if someone reacted like this in church on Sunday. If full of awed amazement at the grace of God someone broken down and wept? When did I last react like that? When was I last broken by the horror of my sin and freshly awed and amazed at the grace of God to me a sinner?