Readings in Luke Continued – No.31
Lk 7:44-47 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. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
I want to suggest that there is a sign of love in this passage that is not obvious but crucial once we really start thinking about what was going on here. The obvious love is that which Jesus spoke about – “for she loved much”. Jesus is using her apparent love in direct comparison with Simon’s attitude. Simon had invited Jesus to dinner but had, according to customs of the time, given him the barest of considerations. Today, if we invited someone in at the end of a hot day, we might point them towards the bathroom and say, “Would you like to just freshen up?” In other words we would give them the opportunity to use our things to clean up and feel better. In their day, with dusty roads and sandals, an honoured guest would have their feet washed by the servants of the house; that was the barest minimum you would do for them. If you wanted to really bless them you would given them oil for their head, rather like we put things on our hair to tidy up. But Simon had done none of these things. He gave Jesus minimal hospitality, because he was really only inviting him in to find grounds to criticise him.
The apparent love that Jesus spoke about, contrasting Simon’s poor attitude was that of the woman. Remember we saw in earlier verses she was well known and had “lived a sinful life in that town,” (v.37), quite possibly a prostitute – but she had come seeking out Jesus. There would have been no other reason that she would enter this house of a Pharisee because, like her, he was probably well known in this small town, and she would have know that she was the very opposite of everything he stood for, and would have been the subject of his condemnation. She has obviously heard about Jesus and, it would appear, was sufficiently desperate that she didn’t mind what people thought or might say. No, she came looking for Jesus and when she found him, she stood behind him weeping.
Now we speculated before why she was crying. Was it that she was so desperate? Was it that when she found Jesus, he simply smiled up at her, a smile of acceptance that broke her heart? Was she overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence and it was a beautiful, accepting presence, so that her heart was melted and she knew she was accepted. We don’t know, we just have to speculate because Luke doesn’t tell us. Whatever else, she felt secure by Jesus. Presumably he had acknowledged her presence in some way and so she remains with him and just weeps and then wipes his wet feet with her tears and then gently rubs perfume into them. Whatever she felt when she came in, whatever had been her motivation then, now it is love in the awareness of being accepted.
Isn’t one of the preliminary facets of love being accepted by the other person? When you meet another person, your relationship cannot develop unless they accept you, and indeed the more they get to know you, the relationship will only develop if you both accept each other as you are. For real love to develop there must first be complete acceptance of each other as we are.
So the obvious love is the woman’s love that Jesus speaks about, a love that has quickly developed and which flows from the way Jesus has just accepted her. John was later to write, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 Jn 4:19) which explains what went on here. The less obvious love, because it is not spoken about, is Jesus’ love of this woman, seen first in the way he accepts her ministrations, while knowing exactly who she is. But I think there is a second way that his love is demonstrated here: it is the way he interprets her actions. It isn’t just to make Simon feel bad, it is a genuine interpretation of her actions. He sees them in the best light possible. Love always looks for the best in a person and sees what they say and do in the best possible way. Yes, it is possible that the woman came in with mixed motives, possibly ready to pay Jesus for help, possibly not even sure why she was there, but the more she remains with him, the more her heart goes out to him as she senses the warmth of his acceptance. It doesn’t matter if she wept out of anguish, it doesn’t matter if she wiped his feet out of embarrassment, it doesn’t matter if she put on the perfume out of guilt, Jesus saw it all positively. It’s like he might have said, “I don’t mind why you did it all; I just take it as an expression of your growing love, and for that I am grateful.” That’s how love responds and that’s why Jesus spoke as he did here to Simon in our verses today. In today’s language we might say he was putting a positive spin on it, but then that’s what love does.
But we always say that we need to look at what Scripture says to us personally. What does this response of Jesus say to us? Well I find it a challenge. Do I look for the best in people? Do I look to see what they say and do in the best light? Do I accept people like Jesus did so that they feel secure with me, safe and able to be themselves? Am I there for the underdog who is condemned by the safe, secure and affluent part of society? Am I willing to be associated with them, even when everyone else is condemning them? Am I so concerned for their salvation that I am willing to risk my reputation to reach out to them with God’s love? These, surely, are the key issues that leap out of this account that Luke brings to us and these are issues that I must deal with in my life, if I am truly to be a disciple of Jesus. May it be so!