What Does Your Love Say?
Luke 7:36 – 50
What Does Your Love Say?
Eating with the enemy?
We’ve just had our third session of Simply Christianity this past Wednesday, looking at how Luke, our careful historian, presents Jesus as God’s king, and how people respond to him.
And one of the reasons that I really enjoy reading through Luke’s gospel account with people who want to find out more about Jesus, is that even more than the other gospel authors, Luke has a particular eye for people who we wouldn’t ordinarily expect to be caught up in what God is doing in the world.
And so it’s a great read for people who expect that Jesus would have no time for them, because we repeatedly see Jesus spending time with people we probably don’t expect him to.
For example, all 4 gospel authors make it clear that as a group the Pharisees, the members of this very strict, legalistic religious sect, as a whole they were opposed to Jesus, and in fact, from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry planned how they might kill him.
But Luke is unique in recording occasions, when Pharisees invited Jesus round for dinner in their home.
Luke wants us to see that Jesus isn’t someone who writes people off because of the groups they belong to,
Or because of their religious background,
Or because they’ve picked up some strange ideas about how they ought to be relating to God, along the way.
Now, I’m not saying that Matthew, Mark and John do think that’s how Jesus views people, just that Luke goes out of his way to make sure we understand this aspect of Jesus’ character.
And here’s one such case.
One of the Pharisees, who we discover in verse 40 is named Simon, invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and Jesus went.
The typical pattern of eating, especially at a special celebration or a banquet, was for people to recline on cushions or mats around a low table. And so you’d kind of be head in, feet out away from the table, on some sort of low couch or cushions.
If you’ve seen the Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, you may recall there’s a scene in it where Jesus, working in his carpenter’s shop, invents a table like you or I would have in our kitchen;, a high table, and 2 chairs that you’d sit up at.
And I think it’s Mary says in the movie, “No, no, that kind of table will never catch on!”
But here, if people are more or less laying down to eat, you can see how it would be possible for this scene to unfold.
The spectacle of devotion (v 36 – 38)
Verse 37, A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.
This would be quite a spectacle, wouldn’t it?
In the first century AD, if you were having some special guest around for dinner, then generally the rest of the neighbourhood were allowed to come in and stand around the room, listening to the conversation!
Which is why, in verse 39, it’s not this woman’s presence that Simon objects to, it’s what she does that’s a problem for him.
Luke tells us that she had lived a sinful life, literally he just calls her “a sinner.” Now, of course we know that that’s a description that could be applied to anybody!
Every single person alive has rejected God,
And ignored God’s pattern for life, because we prefer our own way,
We’ve ignored God’s king, because we want to be boss of our own lives,
We think we should be the ones who decide right and wrong, rather than listening to what God says is right and wrong and best for us.
That’s what sin is, according to the Bible;
Taking good gifts from God’s hand, but living as if God’s not there, or God doesn’t matter.
And so if that’s what sin is, it’s possible to be a really nice person, and be a sinner,
It’s possible to be polite and well-respected, like Simon and probably all his other guests, and still be a sinner.
In calling this lady a sinner, Luke’s not trying to say she was further from God, more rebellious against God than everyone else in the room, just that that’s everybody else thought of her.
Her sin, whatever it was, was obvious and well-known.
But come back to this spectacle with me for a moment.
Jesus is reclining, feet out behind him, and this woman begins weeping over him.
I heard Malcolm Turnbull this week accuse Bill Shorten of crying “crocodile tears”, well that’s not what’s happening here, is it? In fact Luke’s word is the word for “raining”!
This woman is so genuinely overcome, she’s crying so much, that she began to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
Probably, her intention was to anoint Jesus with the perfume. That was why she’d come that night. She may have even intended to pour it on Jesus’ head, which would have been more normal.
But she seems to be so overcome, that her tears are pouring on Jesus like it’s raining, and she realises she can’t just leave Jesus sopping wet, like he’s stepped in a puddle. So she wipes his feet with her hair.
Now, this is probably neither here nor there for us.
But in ancient Israel, washing someone’s feet, was a task considered so menial and disgusting, that only the very lowest slave could be forced to do it.
You know, the apprentice slave. And actually, the international apprentice slave. There wasn’t much that you could refuse to do if you were a Jewish slave working for a Jewish master, but you were spared the indignity of having deal with the stinking feet of your master’s guests, who had traipsed through miles of dust, or mud, or animal droppings, in order to arrive at your door!
You think how despised this work must have been, if you couldn’t even force your slaves to do it?!
But as a bit of an aside though, since we’ve been thinking about John the Baptist on our way through these early chapters of Luke’s gospel account, Remember what John had said about Jesus back in chapter 3? one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals, I am not worthy to untie
John doesn’t think he’s too good to take off Jesus’ shoes, he doesn’t even think he deserves that role, which was so low, a slave couldn’t be forced to do it.
Do you get a sense of how John views Jesus in comparison to himself, how Luke wants us, to think about Jesus.
But this woman is not at all bothered by being seen to take on the position of a servant.
But she goes even one step further, and wiped his feet with her hair.
Again, the cultural thing kind of bypasses us.
My hair wouldn’t really be much good for drying you if you got wet, but if you had been caught in the rain, and you really needed to get dry, I’d be willing to give it a shot! And that would be slightly weird for us, but not scandalous.
But girls, letting down your hair in public, especially in the presence of a man, not your husband, in the first century, it could be grounds for divorce! That’s how shameful it was.
But not only does she commit this major social faux pas, she offers this enormous gift;,
Perfume was hugely valuable in the ancient world. Pliny the Elder, the Roman Philosopher who died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, he spoke of perfume being the most valued possession you could own, because it dies away “the very hour” it’s used.
It’s great worth came from its fleeting existence.
Mark and John both record that what this lady pours out on Jesus’ feet was worth a year’s wages. Now, according to the latest figures from the ABS, the average Australian annual income is $80,000.
That’s quite an extravagant symbol of devotion, isn’t it?
But she’s not bothered by what other people think is she?
She’s not feeling that she ought to be constrained by cultural norms.
She’s responding to something about Jesus, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She knows this is what she needs to do.
I wonder if you’ve been so caught up in something that you continue in it, and you don’t care what other people think?
The kind of classic example, I think, is when people fall in love, isn’t it? You look at 2 people staring into each others’ eyes, or these days more likely messaging each other madly on their phone,
They’re completely oblivious to anyone else in the room, because they’re so enraptured by this other person.
Maybe when you got a new car,
Or a new baby, they’re more or less the same, aren’t they? You fill them,
You wash them,
You show them off!
So maybe the last time you had one of those, you didn’t care less what people thought of you, but you wanted to enjoy, or respond to what you had.
But I wonder when the last time our response to Jesus was like that.
When was the last time we really didn’t care what anyone said, but we were determined to respond to Jesus the way we knew we ought to?
When was the last time we didn’t care less about what was considered polite, or politically correct, or socially acceptable, but just made sure everybody knew how much Jesus means to us.
Maybe some of us are better at it than others, care less about what people think, than others, but it’s an important question isn’t it? Because what Jesus goes on to say, when Simon objects to this breakdown of social norms around his dinner table, shows us that how we respond to Jesus matters.
The way we love Jesus will reveal our understanding of sin and forgiveness (v 39 – 50)
The way we love Jesus will reveal our understanding of forgiveness.
Now, if all Luke had recorded for us was the woman’s actions, we’d have to try to explain this response to Jesus ourselves,
We’d have to try and get inside her head a bit, to work out what’s going on, why does she do this?
But we don’t have to do that wondering, do we? And in fact, to arrive at our own conclusions about all this would be wrong, because Jesus himself tells us exactly what’s going on, and what her response is.
Notice that in his indignation, Simon reveals a little bit more about himself. He’s been willing to invite Jesus around for dinner,
It’s a bit of a win socially, to have the visiting preacher at your dinner table, so that’s been good for Simon, but he lets slip what he thinks about Jesus, doesn’t he?
If this man were a prophet,
He doesn’t think Jesus is a prophet at al.
Because a prophet, in Simon’s mind, wouldn’t tolerate, messy, scandalous, socially inappropriate devotion, from someone who fails to make the grade socially and spiritually.
To Simon, Jesus obviously isn’t the real deal because he doesn’t know what kind of woman she is.
But Jesus tells this little parable about 2 men who both owe money, one a lot, and one a lot less, in comparison.
In round terms, 18 months wages, versus 6 weeks wages. Or put it in Aussie dollars, one man owes 120 thousand, the other 12 thousand.
Both have their debts cancelled, so “who is going to love their creditor more?”
Simon’s answer comes a little grudgingly, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven”, perhaps he can already see where Jesus is going with this,
The person who owed 12 thousand is still going to be super pleased that their debt is forgiven, you don’t expect the bank just to ring up one day and say “We’ve cancelled your debt, you don’t owe us anything”,
But naturally, the person who owed 120 thousand is going to be even more pleased, is going to love, more to use Jesus’ words.
And so then Jesus applies the parable, right then and there, at the dining table.
And just like Simon could probably see it coming, we can see pretty easily the point Jesus is trying to make with the parable;, The way we love will reveal our understanding of forgiveness.
The two men stand in for the woman, the one who owed a lot, and the Pharisee, who owed only a little.
The debt is their sin,
And the debt is owed, to God.
It’s not rocket science!
Now, with parables we don’t want to press them too far, and try and make them say something they were never intended to say, “like that some people actually owe God more for their sin than other people”, we know that’s not true,
But, like he does on a number of occasions, Jesus addresses someone in terms such that they’ll recognise themselves. Simon the Pharisee thought of himself as someone who owed little to God.
The point of the parable is that having your debt forgiven, generates a response.
And your response will be directly proportional, to how you viewed your debt.
And if your response, what Jesus calls you love for him, is a reflection of how you think about your forgiveness,
Then this woman, who has loved much, obviously thinks very differently about her forgiveness, than Simon, who loves little, verse 47.
And where’s the evidence for all this? Well it’s in everything that’s happened, or not happened, since Jesus walked through the door.
The comparison between Simon’s response to Jesus, and the woman’s couldn’t be more stark.
Verse 44 he 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
The scholars like to dispute whether there was a social obligation on Simon, as host, to provide some water for Jesus’ feet.
If there was, then Simon has failed in even the most basic expectation for a guest in his house,
If there wasn’t, then it makes the woman’s response to Jesus even more staggering, since she as a stranger and uninvited guest, has done something that even the host of the party wasn’t expected to provide.
Now Simon hasn’t broken any laws,
He may not even have transgressed any social customs.
But clearly he’s done less than he could have.
In contrast, this woman could hardly have done more.
So look at verse 47, where Jesus drives home his point;, 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.”
Do you remember Simon’s critique of Jesus, probably mumbled under his breath back in verse 39, “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.”
Not only does Jesus know what kind of woman she is,
He also knows exactly what kind of man Simon is.
“Simon, your problem is that you don't think you need to be forgiven very much.”
But Jesus says that the woman’s great love demonstrates her forgiveness.
Notice, that Jesus points out, that this woman hasn’t been forgiven because of her great love.
That would make her love for Jesus a work that achieves salvation, wouldn’t it? That all we need to do is do some, good work, and we get forgiven.
No, the pouring on of perfume isn’t the means of gaining salvation, but a sign after the event, of that salvation that comes through believing that Jesus offers forgiveness.
We don’t know when this woman believed in the forgiveness that Jesus offered her, just that he says it was before this point.
Maybe she met Jesus when Levi invited lots of “sinners” to his house to meet Jesus back in chapter 5, maybe that’s when she trusted in him for forgiveness.
We don’t know the timeline, but her great love has, shown that God’s forgiven her.
And Jesus makes it explicit down in verse 50. Your faith has saved you,
Not, your great love has saved you,
It’s not because you spent a lot of money on perfume, that’s what’s saved you,
It’s not that you’re better than this other guy, who thinks he’s better than you, and that’s what saved you.
No. Your faith has saved you,
This woman finds rescue from her sins, in exactly the same way as everybody else,
Luke, we’ve seen, has given us a number of case studies of faith in his careful history, hasn’t he? Here’s another one.
A woman who believes something about Jesus, and is willing to live in the light of that.
Well, she believes that she needed forgiveness,
And she believes that Jesus gives her forgiveness.
That much is pretty obvious from the way she loves him!
So far this year there’s been a couple of people in our church family come to faith in Jesus, and trusted in him for forgiveness.
And I love to watch it, and even be part of it.
But do you know, when people come to that point when they realise they’ve been forgiven for their rebellion against God, none of them have ever done this to me;,
Cried on my feet,
Sprayed me with perfume, etc, etc!
Well, lots of reasons probably! But mainly because I’m not the one who offers them forgiveness, who achieves their forgiveness.
The fact that this woman demonstrates her great love to Jesus, demonstrates that she understand it’s Jesus who achieves her forgiveness.
Which is what’s echoed in verses 48 and 49, Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Forgiving sins is God’s job.
Sure, we do things that hurt each other, but if, as we’ve seen, sin is primarily an offence against God, a rejection of God, then it’s only God who can forgive.
Of course, Simon the Pharisee responds differently, doesn’t he?
He’s the one, at the end of verse 47, whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
Remember, we keep saying, it’s not that he had less sin,
It’s not that he actually needed forgiving less than the woman. He had rejected God and God’s pattern for life just as much as this woman had, he just did it in much more polite and socially acceptable ways! That is, he’s more like us!
Your love for Jesus, reveals your understanding of your sin and forgiveness.
And so if you don’t love, there’s a real question over, have you understood your sin? And have you been forgiven?
Or if you love, only a little bit, only to the point of convenience,
“I’ll demonstrate my love for Jesus, only when there’s no one else around who might judge me for it”,
How would that go down, do you think, with your husband, or wife, or significant other? “When we’re out in public, I don’t want to be seen with you, but I’ll act lovingly towards you when no one else is looking.”
I can give you a hint as to how that’s going to go, in case you’re wondering. They will rightly say “that’s not real love!”
And if that’s how you love Jesus, with a kind of love that barely passes for love at all, then Jesus will ask, have you been forgiven at all?
Or have you understood what you’ve been forgiven.
What love does and doesn’t have to look like
Now, let me point out, 2 things that this isn’t saying to us.
Firstly, Jesus is not saying, that you have to understand absolutely every aspect of your forgiveness in its entirety.
If you still wonder, “how on earth is it possible for Jesus to forgive me?
Why would Jesus offer to die in my place, so that I can be reconciled to God?
If you have questions about how is it even possible, for God to just in judging sin, and at the same time merciful in providing forgiveness for sin?, then that’s OK?
Think even of Charles Wesley, considered by many to be the greatest hymn writer of all time, Wesley wrote And can it be, that I should gain
An int'rest in the Savior's blood?
That is, it’s a mystery that I should reap the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice.
It’s OK, it’s probably actually appropriate, at some level, to just stand in awe and wonder, and realise that we don’t understand God’s purposes for us entirely.
This isn’t a demand for a particular level of understanding about your forgiveness.
There will be some amongst us who, by personality or temperament, won’t rest, until they’ve plumbed the depths of the mystery of forgiveness, by which point, they are, of course, dead!
And we do want to grow in our maturity, and Christ-likeness, and our knowledge of God,
But I’m sure there are some here who are quite content to know we’re forgiven,
To know that we don’t deserve it,
To know, in fact, that we deserve God’s judgment,
But to know that in Jesus we are forgiven for all our sin, whether we’re a 120 thousand dollar sinner, or a 12 thousand dollar sinner,
And just to appreciate that,
And to love Jesus because of that, without spending too much time trying to figure out the detail of it of how it all works, that’s OK.
The way you love Jesus won’t show whether you understand your forgiveness at Maters level,
Or PhD level,
Or regular person level,
But it will show you how you value your forgiveness.
The other thing that Jesus isn’t demanding of us, is to respond to his amazing gift of forgiveness, like somebody else does.
See maybe you read Luke 7, and if you’re a bit like me, you think, “Wow, that’s quite an overt demonstration of love, I don’t think I’ve ever treated anyone like that!
It’s just, not me!”
But Jesus isn’t saying that this is the way that we have to respond to forgiveness, or that perfume, and tears, and long hair are what’s required to show love.
No, the point is, the question we’re supposed to ask ourselves, how do I show love to Jesus, and what does that say about how I think about my forgiveness?,
What does the way that I show love demonstrate about how much I value my forgiveness?
See if it was me in this episode in the Bible, and that’s always a bad way to begin a sentence, but if it was me at Simon’s house, showing Jesus how much I love him and how much I value the forgiveness he won for me, it wouldn’t be much of a story, because I’d walk up to Jesus, I’d say “thank you Jesus for forgiving me. I really appreciate it, I don’t even have the words.” For me that’s saying something!
I’d shake his hand,
I’d maybe give him a hug,
But that’s it!
That’s me being overly demonstrative!
Don’t think that unless you weep uncontrollably, a rain shower of tears, you haven’t really loved Jesus, and therefore you haven’t really valued your forgiveness.
Don’t think you have to be like somebody else,
But love Jesus in a way that is appropriate considering everything he’s done for you!
Of course, what we mustn’t do, is use our personality, let’s say our boring personality, and if that’s you, you know I’m with you, we mustn’t use our personality as an excuse for lack of response to Jesus.
You see that’s the flipside?
Jesus says, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.
I mustn’t use my lack of, demonstrative-ness, if that’s a word, as a cover for a lack of love.
I don’t want to be too quick to say, “Well I don’t respond to Jesus like this woman, but I really do love him, I really do value what I’ve been saved from.”
If I really am that eager to defend the fact that there’s not much visible sign of my love for Jesus, then regardless of my personality, or my temperament, maybe I do need to take a closer look at what I’ve been forgiven, how I’ve been forgiven
See, I might say, “I’m not going to weep uncontrollably, and tip perfume out, that’s just not me, that’s not how I do things.
And maybe, it’s not how I do things.
But maybe it’s how I ought to do things, sometimes.
Maybe a response to Jesus that goes beyond any other response I’ve ever given is what’s appropriate, because what Jesus offers me in forgiveness and reconciliation with God, is beyond anything else that I’ve been given.
Your love for Jesus doesn’t have to look like somebody else’s love for Jesus, but it must look like you love Jesus, and it will reveal, how you value your forgiveness.
When was the last time you were overcome with gratitude, at what Jesus has done for you?
When was the last time you realised that words cannot express, words are inadequate, on their own, at expressing your thankfulness to God for the forgiveness and reconciliation that he offers you in Jesus.
How often do we consider what it might look like for us, to live a life of love,
To allocate our time,
And career even, in such a way that people would say, “wow, they must really love Jesus. They sure must have a lot to be thankful for!”
And, And I’m not anti-tears!
I know people who start crying whenever they watch a video of cute puppies on the Internet!
But maybe the more stoic amongst us should allow ourselves to weep at our sin,
And its cost,
And the fact that Jesus paid the cost.
Two questions these two characters ask us
A kind of, by-product of the little parable here, is that we get a picture of just how wonderful God’s forgiveness is.
I saw a sign this week, “don’t fear God, fear Karma. God forgives, karma doesn’t!” It’s OK, you’re allowed to laugh!
But at least part of it is true! God forgives!
You might be a 12 thousand dollar sinner, or a 120 thousand dollar sinner.
It doesn’t matter!
You’re still a sinner, and God’s forgiveness can cover your debt!
That’s wonderful news, that should generate an emotional response.
Don’t compartmentalise your emotions off, from your response to God’s kindness to you.
When I was at theological college, we learned about people we meet in the pages of the Bible who are known as flat characters.
Now, that doesn’t mean someone who’s very skinny, but one who’s not very complex.
Some characters in the Bible teach us a whole bunch of different stuff, there’s all manner of lessons to learn from them,
And then there are flat characters.
Flat characters are there really just to teach us one thing.
These 2, Simon and the woman, they’re flat characters.
They’re here to teach one thing.
Really the only reason Luke includes them, is to get us to ask ourselves, 2 questions;
How are you showing your love for Jesus?
And what does that say about how you value the forgiveness Jesus offers you?
I said at the outset that we’re right in the middle of Simply Christianity at the moment. If you wanted to be involved but you missed it, let me know because we can certainly run it again soon.
But one of the first things we see as investigate the Christian faith together, is that Christianity could be defined, not as a series of rules or regulations, or steps, or beliefs, but as “responding, appropriately, to Jesus.”
Responding, appropriately, to Jesus.
That’s what Luke wants of us today.
That’s why he’s recorded these 2 responses.
Which one looks more like you?
Which one do you want to be more like?
What did Wesley wonder?
And can it be that I should gain
An int'rest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him, to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?