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link to Part III, for verse 4 of the hymn

written by Constance Morgenstern

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Part II
Bible Study and Thoughts for

"Jesus, Guest of Many People"

It was sort of a “scene.” When Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus for a meal (Luke 7:36-50, portrayed in verse 3 of our hymn), he never expected what would ensue. A woman with a soiled reputation in their town came up behind Jesus as he was (on his side on a couch) eating. Her sobbing dripped tears on his feet, which she wiped with her long hair. Then, she kissed his feet, and lovingly applied perfume to them from an alabaster jar she had brought.

Who was the woman? The story says she had led a sinful life in the town (a prostitute?), and it seemed that everyone knew it. Simon, in his thoughts, labeled her “a sinner.” (To avoid confusion, this is not Martha’s sister, Mary, from the previous study. The occasions are different.)

Now, who was Simon? Besides being the host, he was a member of the Pharisee party. The Pharisees were Jews who believed in the resurrection, and tried to earn God’s favor by following hundreds of rules. They often looked down on people whom they considered failures at this, calling them “sinners” (Luke 5:30-31). Jesus, during his ministry, clashed more and more with the Pharisees, so that they eventually worked for his death. At this point, however, Simon the Pharisee mostly just seems curious.

In the story, when Simon sees the sinful woman’s much-too-personal treatment of Jesus’ feet, he wonders to himself why Jesus allows it (verse 39). There are actually a couple questions built into his musing. First, is Jesus a prophet? (A prophet would know what kind of woman she was!) A more underlying concern might have been this: If Jesus did know, why would he let her carress his feet the way she did?

It’s funny that Jesus, who hasn’t heard Simon’s musing, responds as if he had! He is a prophet who sees inside of people, even Simon himself. (See Jesus do this also with the "Woman at the Well." Check her story in John 4, especially verses 16-19.)

To address Simon's underlying question, Jesus begins with a parable about two people who have been forgiven debts of vastly different size (Luke 7:41-43). He asks Simon which forgiven debtor would love the forgiver more, and he gets Simon to state, correctly, that it’s the person with the larger, forgiven debt. (That’s powerful teaching!) On what follows, however, Simon is less successful. Jesus exensively lists the loving actions of the sinful woman, relating them to ways that Simon, as a host, could have welcomed him, but didn’t. (We don’t know if Simon takes this well or not.)

But there are other upheavals to come. Jesus says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” And now, Simon’s initial curiosity about Jesus is shooting sky-high: Really, who is Jesus?

Even the other guests have begun wondering (verse 49). For them, Jesus’ declaring the woman forgiven was outrage! Looking at a similar story (e.g. Luke 5:17-26), we can guess their turmoil: ISN’T IT ONLY GOD WHO CAN FORGIVE SINS?

Then, Jesus pronounces the woman “saved” as well!!! Who does Jesus think he is?!?!

Even if Jesus turns out to possess the authority to say this, how is it that the sinful woman got saved? This calls into question the whole follow-the-rules approach of the Pharisees. Maybe Simon the Pharisee thought, “If Jesus is right and the woman is actually saved, what did she do to deserve it?”

I think it’s this: She knew she needed Jesus. She knew He was the one to go to, despite having to walk through a room of frowning people.

I wonder if this isn’t a “gut level” thing—having to to seek out Jesus. This reminds me of what the disciple Peter said, after hard teachings caused some people to leave Jesus, and Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to leave, too. Disciple Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68-69). Peter’s statement is so basic. In fact, Jesus described a certain childlikeness being needed to come to God (e.g. Matthew 19:13-14).

This might get harder when we are older, with complex thoughts and years of living. We can’t accept that things can be simple. Or, the presence of holiness leaves us painfully shocked at how unholy we have been. The prophet Isaiah expressed this (Isaiah 6:1-8). Disciple Peter expressed this (Luke 5:1-11), and so did Apostle-and-former-Pharisee Paul (1 Timothy 1:12-15). I think the sinful woman expressed it in her sobs and the many tears that wet Jesus’ feet.

It’s important for us to see her tears on his feet. It’s also important for us to see that Jesus did not pull away. He absolutely knew “who” she was, yet still accepted her as she dried his feet with her hair, kissed, and applied the perfume. Then, he stood up for her actions when Simon seemed appalled. Plus, he declared her forgiven and saved!

“That’s it?” Simon might have thought. “One moment of repentance after a lifetime of sins and she gets away with it? What about all the good works I’ve been doing?”

John 6:28-29 provides one answer to this sort of question. The work is to believe….

Another answer is given, to people who might have thought like Simon, via the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee of the parable came arrogantly to pray, assuming that his deeds had already earned him fine standing with God. In contrast, the tax collector felt that he could only beg for forgiveness. He just all-out threw himself “on the mercy of the court” or, onto the mercy of God. And Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified!

With the forgiven woman of our story or the tax collector of Jesus’ parable, we can only offer thanks to God, knowing how our acceptability is an undeserved gift. The New Testament writes about this in many places, including cherished verses like Ephesians 2:8-9, or John 3:16-17. For myself, though, I am always most moved by Jeremiah 23:5-6, an Old Testament prophecy about Jesus, which names him beautifully: “The Lord Our Righteousness.”

So, we have a story about a shared meal, a forgiven woman, and Jesus. For Simon and other witnesses, the day’s questions probably turned out to be much more immense and scandalous than any "scene" beside Simon's table. The questions echo even now: “Who is Jesus?” “How are we saved?” …

Yes, worthy questions appear here. But also, such an answer!

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