Debt Relief

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 ESV

Almost as if on cue, Jesus gets an opportunity to demonstrate exactly what he meant He described “the people of this generation” as “children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another” (Luke 7:31, 32 ESV). Jesus portrayed the unbelievers who refused to accept Him and John the Baptist like petulant children who always have to have their own way.

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’’ – Luke 7:32 ESV

And it just so happened that one of these childish, self-absorbed, and unbelieving individuals invited Jesus into his home for a meal. He was a Pharisee, a member of one of the leading religious sects of the day, which meant he was a very powerful and influential man in the community.

Luke does not reveal the motivation behind Simon’s invitation, but it would appear from the context that he was not a follower of Jesus. It seems much more likely that he was either curious to find out more about this mysterious Rabbi from Nazareth or he had been commissioned by the Sanhedrin to catch Jesus in a trap. It could be that the entire affair was a set-up, including the sudden appearance of the woman. Simon may have prearranged for her to show up on cue so that he could see how Jesus would react. In a sense, Simon the Pharisee wanted to see if Jesus would “dance to his tune.” Would He respond to this woman in an appropriate manner, recognizing her as a sinner and treating her accordingly, or would He prove HImself to be “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34 ESV)?

What’s fascinating is that Jesus accepted Simon’s invitation, even though He was probably aware of his intentions. And as they reclined together at the table to share a meal, an unidentified woman appeared. Luke does not provide her name, but simply identifies her as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37 ESV). The Greek word Luke used is hamartōlos and it refers to someone “devoted to sin.” While there has been much speculation regarding the woman’s particular sin, Luke doesn’t provide any details. Throughout the passage, she is simply referred to as a sinner, even by Simon. It was not uncommon for the Pharisees and other religious leaders to refer to all people of the lower class as sinners because they failed to live up to their impossible standards. These arrogant and pride-filled men viewed themselves as spiritually superior because they believed themselves to be scrupulous when it came to keeping the law. But in their self-righteous minds, the average Jew was nothing more than a law-breaking sinner who refused to dance to the tune they were playing. And this woman was just such a hopeless and helpless case.

But this “sinner” came in search of the Savior. Whether she had been hired by Simon or had simply heard that Jesus was a guest in Simon’s home, she came prepared with a gift with which to bless Jesus. In a sense, she brought a sin offering with which to anoint the Son of God. Luke describes the scene:

Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. – Luke 7:38 NLT

Jesus would have been laying on his side, His elbow resting on a pillow and his head nearest the table. His feet would have extended away from the table. So, this woman came up behind Him and began to pour the expensive perfume on His feet and clean His feet with her own hair. It is interesting to note that Simon makes no attempt to stop her. This lends credibility to the idea that he had expected her arrival. Simon simply watched the woman, silently ridiculing Jesus for His apparent ignorance of her sinful state.

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” – Luke 7:39 NLT

Simon judged Jesus. He condemned Jesus for failing to recognize this woman as unworthy to be in their presence. But Simon failed to recognize that Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking. Jesus had quietly allowed the woman to do what she did, all the while knowing what was going through Simon’s mind and the woman’s heart. So, when she had finished, Jesus said to Simon, “I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40 ESV).

Simon diplomatically refers to Jesus as a teacher, but in his mind, Jesus had lost all credibility. Jesus’ decision to allow Himself to be touched by this sinful woman had rendered Him unclean and unworthy of Simon’s respect. In Simon’s mind, Jesus was no more the Messiah than He was a prophet. He was just an itinerant Rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth who was a friend of the dregs of society.

But Jesus responded to Simon by telling him a story.

“A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” – Luke 7:41-42 NLT

Jesus returned the favor and set Simon up. He told him a simple story about two people who had sizeable debts forgiven. Neither individual was capable of clearing up their debt on their own. They were hopelessly and helplessly obligated to their lender and facing possible indentured servitude in order to fulfill their financial indebtedness. But to their surprise and joy, each had their entire debt forgiven. And Jesus asks the Pharisee which one of these individuals would have had the greater reason for gratitude and love.

Simon knows the right answer but seems a bit reluctant to share it. He seems to know he is being set up. But he responds, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt” (Luke 7:43 NLT). Simon could sense what Jesus was doing but there was nothing he could do about it. The answer was obvious and so was Jesus’ point. Simon was smart enough to know that the two characters in the story represented him and the woman. Simon fully understood that Jesus was inferring that he too was a sinner. And Jesus affirmed the correctness of Simon’s answer.

“You have judged rightly.” – Luke 7:43 ESV

In quoting Jesus’ response, Luke uses the Greek word krinō. This word has a variety of meanings. It can mean “pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong ” or “to pass judgment on the deeds and words of others.” It seems that Jesus is confirming two different things about Simon. He had been correct in his judgment of the woman as a sinner and he had given the correct answer to Jesus’ question. And in answering the question correctly, Simon had judged himself to be a sinner as well. In fact, he had unknowingly confessed his indebtedness to God and his inability to repay what he owed. He stood in need of forgiveness just like the sinful woman he so despised.

And Jesus confronted Simon for his insensitivity and judgmentalism by comparing his actions with those of the penitent and grateful woman.

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” – Luke 7:44-47 NLT

By her actions, the woman had shown her awareness of the overwhelming nature of her sin debt. She sacrificed her dignity and her livelihood in order to express her sorrow for her sin and her hope for forgiveness. She never said a word to Jesus but her actions clearly indicated how much she longed to be cleansed from her sin. But Simon had done nothing. He hadn’t even shown Jesus the common courtesies that any host would show a guest in their home. He had invited Jesus into his home but then failed to treat Him with the respect and honor He deserved as the Son of God. Simon didn’t feel as if he owed Jesus anything because he didn’t think he was a sinner in need of a Savior.

And Jesus reveals the ignorance of Simon’s self-righteous perspective.

“…a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” – Luke 7:47 NLT

In essence, Simon showed Jesus no love at all because he saw himself as owing nothing to God and in no need of forgiveness. But in a shocking display of His divine authority, Jesus turned to the woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48 NLT). And at this point, Luke reveals that there were others reclining at the table with Simon and Jesus. We have no idea who there were, but it is likely that they were peers of Simon. Their response to Jesus’ statement reveals their surprise and incredulity at His words.

“Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” – Luke 7:50 NLT

They are appalled at Jesus’ audacity. He was claiming the right to forgive sins, something only God could do. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, adds fuel to the fire burning in their hearts by telling the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50 NLT). Jesus was clearly insinuating that it was the woman’s faith, not her sacrifice that had led to her salvation. It was not the expensive perfume or her selfless act of washing His feet that had led to her forgiveness and salvation, but her belief that He had the right and authority to forgive her insurmountable sin debt.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson