"And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. . . ." Luke 7:36-50.
In this brief narrative, we have recorded the ways of Jesus when in company with a sinner, a
religious man (Simon the Pharisee), and others that sat at meat with Him.
The circumstances were very simple. The Pharisee, like religious people in our day, had a certain respect for one who had the reputation of being a prophet, or a teacher sent from God. Jesus was therefore an object of interest to him, though he knew Him not as the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners. It is lamentable how many seem to make the Lord, or even the Bible, a matter of interest, instead of being a matter of salvation. The Pharisee had invited the Lord to eat with him, and as He came, not to judge the world, but to save, He accordingly went. While there, a notoriously wicked woman came into the house, and, among all the guests, her heart singled out the Lord as the one who alone could meet her need; she cast herself down at His feet behind Him, and it was evident that her soul-distress was very considerable. This fact was enough to appeal loudly to the conscience of the religious Pharisee. He was surprised at his guest allowing a woman of that character to touch Him, so that he really began to suspect whether he had not been estimating Him too highly in thinking Him to be a prophet. This opened the way for the Lord of glory to pour forth, in the presence of them all, the blessed testimony of divine grace — the grace of God which bringeth salvation — and to manifest the fact that He came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Simon little thought that his guest was the Son of God. Little either did he suspect that his heart and conscience were laid bare to the eyes of Him whom he had desired to eat with him. The Pharisee feared to tell out his thoughts; but "he spake within himself, that this man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him; for she is a sinner." (v. 39.) Yes, he spake within himself; but the Lord searches the heart. He can read the inmost thought. All is naked to His eye; and He declares that every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil, and that continually. (Gen. 6:5.) Such is man before the eye of God — only and continually evil. But Simon, like many others, thought himself righteous, and therefore he despised this sinful woman; he was evidently grieved to see her in his house, and was astonished that his guest should have allowed such a person to touch Him. He marvelled how Jesus could welcome such a sinner; and it is a wonder to unbelieving hearts still, because they think that it is religious or good people that Christ embraces; and they do not believe the blessed fact, that Christ died for the ungodly, and that He saves sinners — guilty, hell-deserving sinners.
How does the Lord meet these unbelieving and self-righteous thoughts of the blind Pharisee? In perfect wisdom, gentleness, and kindness, He says, "Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on." And then, if I mistake not, He draws a portrait of both the sinner and the Pharisee as an appeal to this self-righteous conscience. "A certain creditor had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both." As much as to say, Suppose, then, that it be true that this woman is an open transgressor of God's laws, and that her flagrant sins are manifest, so that she is considered ten times as great a violater of right principles as some others, and call her a five hundred pence debtor; and then suppose that little can be said of Simon as to outward misconduct; suppose even that his transgressions against outward morality are few, and seldom repeated, so that he is only a fifty pence debtor; still, the fact is, that whether the debt be little or much, both are so thoroughly bankrupt, as to have nothing whatever to pay their creditor's demand. This is most important; because it is not now a question of a person being a great sinner, or a little sinner; the question is, Are your sins forgiven? How can you meet God on the judgment of your sins? for you are in debt, and cannot pay. The answer is, that God is the God of all grace, and, frankly, unasked, proclaims forgiveness in pity and mercy, because you cannot liquidate any portion of the debt yourself. This is grace — God in rich mercy forgiving sins, and justly so too, on the ground of the atoning death of His beloved Son. "Christ died for the ungodly." "He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God."
Then the Lord appeals to Simon as to which would love the forgiving creditor most; for the prostrate woman was lavishing, as it were, her grateful heart over the sacred feet of her newly-found Saviour. To this question he answered, "I suppose he to whom he forgave most." This is clear enough: hence the Saviour said, "Thou hast rightly judged."
The principles of divine grace and truth being thus laid down, the application follows and the Lord having drawn a portrait, bringing each guilty and undone before God, alike in need, alike dependent on the free mercy of God, now shows the difference between a soul that apprehends Him as the Saviour of sinners, and one, however religious, who knows Him not. How wonderfully skilful was this perfect Preacher in using the truth; for Simon needed to be awakened to a sense of his guilt, and the hollowness of his religious pretensions; the woman needed to be comforted, and filled with that joy and peace which the Saviour brought for broken-hearted, sin-convicted people.
He turns then to the woman, but still addresses the Pharisee. Directing Simon's attention to the woman, He says, "I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet;" that is, you have not even shown me a common mark of respect and attention: "but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss" — did not salute me with an ordinary mark of affection: "but since I came in she hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment." Thus the blessed Lord shows Simon how much there was in the ways of this despised, sinful woman superior to himself, and, as He afterwards teaches, the spring of all is love — the fruit of a heart moved with gratitude to the Lord. Because of deep-felt need, she clung to Him as the alone Saviour, and knew that He only could make her crimson sins white as wool. She had found Him. Her soul had been longing after personal dealing with this Friend of sinners, and now she had found Him, she counted Him worthy of the costliest service. The alabaster box was broken, His feet anointed, after being bathed with tears of grateful love, and wiped with the hairs of her head. Her love was the fruit of forgiveness of her many sins. She therefore loved much. Hence Jesus added, "Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." (v. 47.)
But further. The Lord thus far has only addressed Himself to Simon. The woman seems to be all this time lying at His feet. She must be comforted, and learn from the Lord Himself that her filthiness is cleansed, her iniquity pardoned. Therefore Jesus said unto her, "Thy sins are forgiven." Nor is this all; He again addresses Himself to her — "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
We have here three present blessings of eternal importance. Present forgiveness of sins, present salvation, present peace. If we had met this woman the next day, and said to her, "Are your sins forgiven? are you saved?" what would have been her reply? "Yes, I have forgiveness; I am saved." And then, if asked, "Are you quite sure that your sins are forgiven?" would she not have said, "Yes, quite sure, because the Saviour told me so; and His word can never fail!"
It is present peace, present forgiveness, present salvation, that so many are denying in our day. They say that we cannot know these things till we come to die. But we have seen what the Lord taught; and there are many more Scripture testimonies to the same effect; and the Scripture cannot be broken. The Lord certainly gave this woman the fullest warrant for taking her stand as a saved person, and that, too, in the way of faith. "Thy faith hath saved thee." It was not her tears, the ointment, or anything else that saved, blessed fruits as they were; but Jesus alone is the Saviour, and those who accept Him are perfectly secure. It was not doctrines about Christ, or religious duties, or prayers, or anything else, but Christ Himself to whom she had clung, and known as her very own Saviour. It was Himself, the Son which came forth from the Father, whom she had made her refuge, and in whom alone her confidence rested. Blessed sample of simple faith! Blessed testimony, too, of the reality of present forgiveness of sins, present salvation, and present peace, leaving no room for fear or doubt, or a moment's misgiving, as to the security of that soul whose simple trust is in the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of lost, guilty sinners.
But those who sat at meat could no longer be silent. Man hates grace. He cannot bear the free, unmerited love of God. "Who is this," they said, "that forgiveth sins also?" Yes, who is this? That has always been the question, and so it is still. "Who is this?" He was in the world, the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." He said, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to my Father." He died upon the cross to save sinners, and having finished the work, God raised Him from the dead, and exalted Him to His own right hand in heaven. "After He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God: from henceforth expecting, till His enemies be made His footstool."