Readings in Luke Continued – No.32
Lk 7:48-50 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
We’ve said it a number of times before in these meditations and we’ll no doubt say it again, but there are times in Scripture when you wish more was said so that it was a lot clearer to us. As we read this account the woman says nothing. Everything attributed to her by Jesus is through her actions. She came, she wept, she wiped and she washed with perfume – but she doesn’t say anything. She is a known sinner in the town and Jesus now pronounces forgiveness for her. Just a minute, we say, doesn’t forgiveness come from God ONLY when there has been repentance? Yes, and so Jesus reads in her and in her actions, repentance. He even declares that it is her faith that has saved her. How come?
Go back a verse and you find Jesus explaining to Simon, summing up his chiding of Simon, following the little illustration of two debtors with, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much.” (v.47). Jesus, as we considered in the previous meditation, put a very favourable spin on her actions, he saw her actions in the best light possible. As we have previously considered her actions and considered the possibilities, we considered very human actions and responses which may well have started out with human reasoning and self-centred motivations, but we did also recognise that in Jesus’ presence her heart is broken or melted or won over and now Jesus interprets all she did in a good way.
The truth is, of course, that Jesus sees her heart. He knows what has been going on inside her and knows the transformation that has taken place. The only way that our interpretation of events could be wrong is if Jesus had previously met her, and spoke to her, so that her coming to the house was a response of repentance to his words – but there is no evidence that that happened.
Now, says Jesus, it is her faith that has saved her, so what signs are there of her faith. Well first of all there is the fact of her coming into the house and looking for Jesus. As we’ve noted previously this was quite a difficult thing for her to do. Something in her is stirring her to come and see Jesus. Jesus said elsewhere, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and part of the Father’s ‘work’, I believe, is to speak to people. I am certain that God speaks to every person many times in their lives. Whether they hear and respond to Him is another matter, but Paul was to write, “faith comes from hearing the message,” (Rom 10:17) and so when there is faith, it is always responding to God’s message. Admittedly Paul was referring to the preached message in the context of what he was saying, but it is also true in respect of anything God whispers directly into our mind. The fact that the woman came looking for Jesus, is an indication that she is responding in faith to an inner prompting. But that isn’t enough.
She finds him, stays with him, and responds to him. As we’ve previously suggested, Jesus almost certainly would have acknowledged her in some way and that way indicated to her acceptance. It is that acceptance, we suggest, that breaks her heart and opens the floodgates of tears. Now we have suggested before that it is possible that she came in weeping out of anguish because of her life situation which was crushing her, but here we are now considering an alternative reason for her tears – they are tears of thankfulness – someone understands me, some knows me and accepts me. Her tears of anguish become tears of relief. When we come to see that for the first time it is a mighty liberating thing. Have you ever come to that realisation? If you have it will almost certainly have been accompanied by joy and by tears, or both. If you’ve never had that joy or those tears it is possible that you’ve never ‘seen it’ or realised it as a truth, and maybe you want to ask the Lord to reveal it to you.
If her tears are now tears in response to Jesus’ obvious acceptance of her, it is a response of faith that says, “Yes, he DOES accept me!” and that in itself is an act of faith. As she wipes his feet with her hair and then wipes perfume on them, these again can be seen as heart responses to Jesus. Yes, we have previously interpreted them as acts of embarrassment and appeasement, but Jesus interprets them as acts of faith, acts that, for whatever reason, want to please him. Her heart, in whatever way, is reaching out to Jesus, and when a person does that they let go their old life, and transfer their allegiance to Jesus, together with an allegiance to goodness and righteousness. For these reasons, Jesus looks into her and recognises genuine repentance and for that reason he pronounces forgiveness for her and declares that it is forgiveness that comes in response to her acts of faith.
We can never earn our forgiveness. We can only repent. We don’t deserve forgiveness, only Jesus has earned it: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Eph 1:7) It can only come to us because of what Jesus did on the Cross. As we respond to God’s drawing, as we respond to His prompting, and come in repentance, it opens the way for Him to declare the forgiveness we need. We haven’t earned it, we just come to receive it and we don’t come until we repent.
The coming is, in itself, an act of faith, and that is what the Lord looks for in us. The coming is followed by responses to Him that indicate our repentance, and that He also looks for. Jesus saw it in the woman, even though she never said a word. That isn’t to say that we are not to say a word. The words would follow with the woman. As Paul wrote: “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:9,10). Repentance involves confession and belief. For the woman it was ‘confession by deeds’ and Jesus was happy with that, for the time being at least! Hallelujah!