Well, that took me long enough, huh? I feel like Martha, distracted by many things. But back to Luke 7:36-50 tonight, at least!
So after Jesus gets finished rebuking the Pharisees and experts in the law, one of them invites Him over for dinner. The Pharisee’s name is Simon (v. 40), which oddly I’d never noticed, despite the fact that “the woman” in this passage is often named Mary Magdalene (with no textual warrant whatsoever).
We talk a lot about how Jesus “hung out with sinners” but this passage is spectacular: Jesus is having dinner with an unregenerate sinner (who is a Pharisee) and visited by a saint (who is a prostitute). God’s sovereign grace is on broad display here as the categories are all topsy-turvey. We would expect the Bible teacher to be the regenerate one and the prostitute to be the lost one!
But we see the woman’s faith from the very beginning: she was weeping, enough to wash his feet. That’s some serious crying. Her whole soul is obviously very invested in this meeting. Moreover, unlike Simon, who confidently (and deceitfully) invites Christ boldly to his house (in stark contrast to the humility of the centurion, for example), the woman won’t even stand in front of Jesus, but just at His feet. This is all very self-abasing.
Simon, though, is worried about the Law (v 39, HCSB):
This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him–she’s a sinner!
The Pharisees forbade themselves from touching even the garments of the common people, and here this woman—this vile sinner!—is not only touching Jesus’s garments but His actual feet! Simon doesn’t speak to Jesus about it, but Jesus knows Simon’s heart and answers him with a parable: who will love more, the debtor who is forgiven much, or the debtor who is forgiven only a little?
Jesus then explains: Simon didn’t even wash Jesus’s feet, but the woman washed them—with tears! Simon didn’t give Him a kiss, but the woman kissed—His feet! Simon didn’t give Him the usual respect at feasts of anointing His head with common oil, but the woman anointed His feet—with very costly oil!
The woman had many sins, the woman knew she was forgiven, hence she loved much (Luke 7:46). Simon doesn’t appear to have been very worried about his sins, or have loved at all. The woman was forgiven; Simon was trying to cause trouble (v 49) for the Man he should have fallen down and worshipped. The woman exhibited a plain saving faith, despite her sinfulness; Simon exhibited straightforward animosity toward God, despite his religious status.
I don’t think I’ve found any of Jesus’s teachings thus far as terrifying as this one. It is far too easy to be Simon, proud and secure in my own works and my own understanding of Scripture. Far too hard to be the woman, with sin on full display and humble enough to come to the house of a respected member of the community—who wants nothing to do with me—just to do the right thing and honor a Savior. And then to be so aware of my own sin to not even speak or have any boldness at all, but just to humbly serve, and give all I have, to face criticism and hatred, not to gain anything at all, but just to worship at His feet.
That’s what saving faith looks like.