Luke 7.36-50, John 12.1-8, Matt. 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9
We’ve all heard the saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover. We often do judge a book by its author, and we determine if the book is something we would be interested in based on who wrote the book. We might even judge the book based on whether it has won an award such as the Newberry (children’s literature), Caldecott (children’s illustrations), Pulitzer (adult fiction), and Truman Capote (literary criticism). Now this passage comes with a great story and we could easily let our creative imaginations create the artwork to accompany this story. The author is Luke who has become a well-appreciated narrator of the Gospel stories. Just based on the author’s style we know how this story is going to run because Luke is all about heart reversals. The artistic style could win a Caldecott award for painting an illustration with just his words. The image is outstanding!
Luke 7.36-39 sets the scene. Jesus enters the home of Simon the Pharisee and he sits down to a table for a meal. Jesus has just left a dinner party where he was considered a friend of sinners (Luke 7.34), and now we find him at a dinner party befriending Pharisees. Four times the word Pharisee is used. Luke clearly wants us to understand the dynamics that are emerging. Up to this point in Jesus ministry there isn’t any love lost between Jesus and the Pharisee sect. So before any other words are spoken you and I can feel the tension rising.
Next a woman enters the storyline. To be sure Luke names women in his Gospel more than any of the others. The moment the woman enters the room the stress steps up another notch. Women in Jesus’ day were not welcome at an event such as this. This would have been a time when women were just outside the circle of influence, and to top it all off she was an uninvited guest. Simply her presence became the stumbling block between those in power and those without name in society. In this story she is the nameless woman. We only know her by this extravagant performance of invading someone’s home to offer an act of sacrificial love. By this demonstrative act she created a sacred moment between herself and Jesus in front of the whole dinner crowd.
Tradition, would name her as Mary Madgelene (Luke 8.2) who was prostitute and was delivered from seven demons. Some even believe she is the same Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, Martha and Lazarus sister.
The Pharisee was at once discerning whether Jesus was a true prophet because he would know who this woman was (had been), a sinner. The Pharisee was quick to judge whether Jesus’ response was that of a truly holy man or if he was indeed the false prophet that many folks believed him to be.
Luke 7.40-43 transitions us into the heart of the situation with a parable. Jesus knows the heart of both the Pharisee and the nameless woman who has entered into the storyline. Jesus knows. He knows the hearts of the people and offers a parable to explain the emotions that are just below the surface. The expression of affection used in this parable is love (agape). Jesus explains that those who have been forgiven much love much (agape) and those who have been forgiven little love little (agape). In this story each use of the word love is from the root word agape (Luke 7.42, 47).
C.S. Lewis in his book entitled The Four Loves helps us to understand charity (agape) love more clearly by differentiating it from affection (storge), friendship (phileo), and romance (eros). Each love has its own reward to be sure. Three of the loves – affection (storge), romance (eros), and friendship (phileo) – are easily definable in our daily lives. Storge is the affection within a family, the friendship community built between strangers who become neighbors, and the care for a pet. It grows out of familiarity. Eros is romantic love and has the potential to become destructive in nature. Lewis defines Phileo as companionship that goes beyond acquaintanceships when the heart of one person calls to the other in response and camaraderie develops. On the other hand Agape charity love stands apart. It is used 320 times in the Bible are very few sources outside of the Bible. This kind of love presents itself as pure passion for the good of another without ever experiencing any reciprocal affection. It is unconditional. Practicing God’s presence in the company of others is to love the unlovable and join in unity with those who are not like our selves. This joining together with others is more than a cognitive ascent to tolerate the other. Tolerance is not love but moves us in a passive aggressive stance much like magnets that cannot be attractive to one another when their poles are in opposition.
Luke 7.44-47 offers a deeper insight into the mind of Christ. Jesus’ identity and his authority are brought into question, but Jesus redefines hospitality. If he is who he says he is, then he should know who this sinner is! How can anyone forgive sins besides God himself and the process of the sacrifice? Jesus uses a parable to explain the answer to Simon so that he is gently humbled by the situation. Jesus stands between the two people and seeks to reconcile both of them – the sinner and the religious leader. Jesus points out that Simon had not offered hospitality for his dinner party guests, yet this sinner has shown him much more than hospitality – she has shown him extravagant love. Hospitality would have required the guest of such a party to welcome the poor into their home for leftovers. The doors would have been left wide open as an invitation for others to enter.
Luke 7.48-49 is the ultimate response to the scene at the dinner party. She is forgiven! But in the background there’s the naysayers who will always question whether you can be redeemed from your past or not. This conflict has the potential to create schism. You’ve heard the saying “naming the elephant in the room” well this was an elephant! In John Wesley’s article entitled “Farther Thoughts on Christian Perfection” number 37 states,
“Beware of schism, of making a rent in the church of Christ. That inward disunion the member ceasing to have a reciprocal love for one another is the very root of all contention, and every outward separation” (1 Cor. 12.25) (A Plain Account, 102).
In Luke 7.50 Jesus sends her on her way with saving faith (sozo) and peace (eirene) between peoples. The word used here inspires us to understand that Jesus is speaking words of community peace for her. This is not the word for well-being (shalom). This sinner needed peace within her community and among her peers. It is important to note that Jesus did not command her or anyone else to go and express this passionate love to others. No, he blessed her with peace among the people in her community.
We are invited to the Dinner Table to recall our own shortcomings whether we find ourselves seated with the sinful woman, standing with the Pharisee, or simply an observer at the dinner party. The hair, the kisses, the tears, and the perfume demand an emotional response. How will you respond? Join me at the Table.