So far we have seen John the Baptist and Jesus set the stakes way high – surprisingly high -- in response to people who have it together. What will His response be to people who obviously don't have it together?
I must confess that I had a hard time letting my title stand. I actually have a harder time loving the self righteous than I do loving the unrighteous, and I really find it distasteful to call anyone a “low life.”
Yet the woman featured in today's blog is clearly presented as just that – a known woman of ill repute. Luke leaves her nameless and describes her as, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.” (Lk 7:37) The Pharisee host gave himself permission to reduce his opinion of Christ, because, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” (Lk 7:39) And even Jesus describes her as one whose sins “are many” (vs 47) and who needs much forgiveness in comparison to Simon, His Pharisee host, who needs little. She was society's trash – a low life, whose sins were public and on display.
His final word!
“Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (vs 50) And before that, “Your sins have been forgiven.” (vs 48) And before that, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much.” (vs 47)
Why is there no, “But.”
“But, go clean up your act. “
“But, make sure you don't return to your previous lifestyle.”
“Go in peace!”
I can feel it as I write. Her slumped shoulders lifting. Her downcast eyes and tear stained face now cautiously turned up, looking for His eyes. “Could it be true?” The smile breaking forth and the tears, now of joy, flowing again. Release! Release! Release! Blessed sweet release!
I am sure she went! In peace – forgiven – rescued by Jesus.
How could He? Why did He? What happened here anyways?
If you haven't read it by now, you should. We are talking about Luke 7:36-50.
There is lots of neat stuff here. Like how Simon thinks in his head, and has Jesus answer him out loud. And how Jesus makes Simon look like the low life in the story. But blog posts are supposed to be short.
Why does Jesus forgive her? Because she loves Him much!
She goes, uninvited, into the home of a well reputed Pharisee who would not so much as touch her clothing. He has guests of his own kind gathered. This is not a safe place for her.
The alabaster vial of perfume
She hears that He is in there, picks up her perfume, and enters the house. There is nothing happenstance about this. She has heard about Him, recognized who He is, perhaps seen Him minister with compassion and authority to others, and is on a mission to express her love for Him, and seek forgiveness. He has her heart, and is her only hope.
The language of her body
She is weeping. Too broken to touch His head or His torso, her tears falling on His feet, she keeps wiping them off with her hair, all the while kissing his feet and anointing them with her perfume.
She says nothing. She doesn't need to!
Why does Jesus forgive her? Because He can forgive whomever He wants.
This is what has the Pharisees floored. For the moment they forget about the sinful woman making a public display at Jesus feet. Their murmuring is now not about her, but about Him. “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”
She knows who He is, but they do not!
My Hebrew professor in seminary once said something that so surprised me, I have never forgotten it. “There is no sacrifice for the sin of the high hand.” Premeditated things like murder and adultery are dealt with by stoning and by the absence of an atoning sacrifice.
King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. In Psalm 32, and Psalm 51 and II Samuel 11,12 there is no mention of him taking a lamb or a bull to the tabernacle in search of atonement. Instead he speaks in the Psalms of acknowledging His sin to God and being blessed with forgiveness. It was all he could do.
And it is all she can do. If she had taken a lamb to the priest at the temple, the priest would have turned her away. (Assuming that she was an adulteress.) The priest can only offer forgiveness under the law, and there is no provision for her under the law.
When Jesus says, “Your sins have been forgiven you,” He is placing Himself above the law (a higher authority than the High Priest) and equal with His Father. He can forgive whomever He wants.
For the record, I know that He does that on the basis of His own atoning sacrifice, yet to come! But I see no evidence that she knows that, or needs to know that. There is certainly no evidence that He points her in that direction. And He certainly could have, because He knows exactly where He is going. So He forgives her without pointing her back to the shadow of the atonement (the Old Testament sacrificial system) or pointing her forward to the reality of the atonement (His own sacrifice on the cross). He just forgives her, plain and simple!
There is yet another thing, perhaps the more breathtaking.
If I meet a stranger, and He tells me how he has sinned against his wife, and I say, “I forgive you,” what is that? Nothing! He will not go away forgiven, and unless he is a fool, he will not go away feeling forgiven. Why not? Because he has not sinned against me. So I can not forgive him.
When David is dealing with the guilt of committing adultery with Bathsheba, and murdering her husband, he says to the Lord, “Against You and You only I have sinned!” (Psalm 51:4) That sounds ridiculous. How could it be more clearly not true? He violated the marriage of Uriah, and Bathsheba – a sin against both of them. He took the life of Uriah, a sin against Uriah, and any who loved him or depended on him. Yet he says, “Against you and you only I have sinned!” What can he mean?
He means that he gets it! While His sin certainly violated many, first and foremost, it violated their Creator, and the forgiveness that counts has to come from Him! When a vandal sprays paint over a priceless painting, he violates the painting, but his action most importantly expresses contempt for the painter and the owner. God is both the painter and the owner of men and women and their marriages.
This woman knows intuitively that to which the Pharisees are blind. Jesus is God. Her sins, which are many, are against Him. Thus, He can forgive her!
And He does!
And He does without requirement, simply on the basis of her faith or her love! We see a heart, now upside down to the way it used to be. There is no tension between her and John the Baptist or the rich young ruler or lawyer.
Eternal life is for those whose hearts belong to Jesus.