Week 2 | Wednesday
Week 2: Who does Jesus care about?
Jesus, a Pharisee, and a Sinful Woman
by Janet Nygren
Read: Luke 7:36-50
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii [Note: about 20 month’s wages], and the other fifty [Note: about 2 month’s wages]. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
- Last time we encountered a dinner invitation, it was with Levi the tax collector, whom Jesus called to follow him. Why do you suppose this Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner?
- Who seems to be Jesus’ main teaching audience at the dinner (notice who is actually named)? How does the sinful woman serve as an example for Jesus’ lesson?
- What does Jesus want Simon to learn (the “gotcha” of the parable)? What does Simon need to do to truly experience Jesus’ lesson?
- Who does Jesus care about in this story? How does Jesus show his love?
- Do you identify more with the woman, who was in need of great forgiveness, or with Simon, who was in need of growing greatly in his ability to love?
- Jesus invites us to turn to him for help in whatever way we need to change, particularly our greatest deficits. It’s pretty humbling to have to ask for help, but that’s why it’s important to be reminded that Jesus cares for us, no matter what. Take a moment to do that now.
- Would people describe you as someone who “loves little” or “loves big”? Do you have an example of having received something significant that impacted how you treated others?
My focus has always been on the woman in this story. I never really thought about Simon the Pharisee. Is he like Nicodemus? Is he earnestly seeking? In a way, this story is somewhat like the parable we considered last Sunday. Jesus loves us all, and He came that all night receive forgiveness. Like the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Simon feels like he is better than the woman who anoints Jesus feet. Jesus makes it clear that those who recognize their sinfulness and receive forgiveness will love him deeply. There are times when I remember what my life was like before I received Jesus, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the forgiveness, salvation and new life Jesus gave me. I am mindful that I am no better than anyone else!
I would like to believe myself to be someone who loves big but I must acknowledge that there are times when I fail at this. I am a sinner that sometimes is quick to anger or that at times casts judgement which is not mine to do. I try to work hard at not being quick to anger or to judge. The more I walk with Jesus the more I want to be like him and change from those ways when they occur and be exactly who he created me to be.
Back in September I started attending a church local to where I live and there were two things that occurred that impacted me. I’m not sure if I can call them big moments but these gestures surely affected me. The first was when a member came and thanked me for bringing my family to church and that it brings him joy to see us. This made me feel welcomed and I was happy. His kind words that only took a minute changed my day and got me thinking how we can help others and show them Jesus’ love sometimes just by a kind statement. The second was when another church member bought and gifted my children a nativity scene to play with during advent. It was a complete surprise and I was shocked by her generosity for someone who didn’t know us well. This act reminded me that it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture that generosity can come in all ways and that I want to be able to do things like this for others. I like to believe these two circumstances had to do with God and him sharing his love through his disciples.
Like Simon, it's so easy for me to think I'm a pretty good person. Then following Jesus can become just an interesting hobby that makes me feel even better about myself. How can I be like the woman in this story, so desperate in my need for him and overwhelmed with love that I do radical things for him and his kingdom? That's why Lent is so important every year. We need to be reminded who we really are apart from Jesus.
Simon seems to be asking a sincere question here-- but maybe I'm thinking that because of the way Jesus answers him simply and sincerely, without the snarkiness he sometimes uses for Pharisees. And the parable is pretty clear, comparing someone like Simon to someone like "the woman."
Honestly, it appears that even whoever was Luke's interviewee for writing this story thought less of the woman than of Simon--they didn't even remember her name. I bet Jesus knew and called her by name, though.
We all categorize people, just like we categorize objects. It's the only way for our brains to remember the many people we have to interact with every day. But how we deconstruct that ranking when we assign value is what makes us more or less like Jesus. I struggle sometimes to see students who are from great privilege as equally valuable to students whose parents can barely live as they send their kids to school. Even if they literally are elite, more like a Pharisee than a supplicant woman or an 18-year-old kid from Ghana or the Bronx, they still deserve my full love and attention. But it's sometimes not easy!
I was raised in a spirit of independence and depending on yourself to make it through life--I guess it sounds a bit like the American Dream. It has its merits, but did not teach me much about vulnerability, sin, depending on others. In some ways it taught me to love myself more than others. So, when I had my first child (almost 33 years ago now!), I was blown away by the generosity of my church when they delivered meals for a couple of weeks. I felt so loved and cared for, and it helped me see in new ways that being needy isn't such a bad thing. It also inspired me to be the first to sign up for such things when I had the chance. The love I received made me want to love others more. It's an ongoing struggle for me not to be overly independent, to invite others in when I need help, which I think relates to my need to grow in my ability to love, just like Simon.