The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50)

The Pardon of the Sinful Woman

36 A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.

37 Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,

38 she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.

42 Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

45 You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.

46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.

47 So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

48 He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

49 The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Spiritual – Loving Our Forgiver

In my estimation Jesus’ story in verses 41-43 portrays the sinful woman and Simon the Pharisee as the two people who owe a debt that they can’t repay.  In this comparison, her debt is much greater than Simon’s.  Additionally, Jesus tells us that Simon judges rightly when he says that the person who is forgiven more will love more.  But just because people behave that way doesn’t mean that they’re behaving as they should.  We cannot let it escape our attention that in Jesus’ comparison each person owed a debt that was too large to repay.  It’s no different with sin.  Truly, one who sins much “owes a debt” that can’t be repaid.  However, the same is true of one who has sinned only a little – he “owes a debt” that is beyond his own ability to repay.

The Pharisee walks around every day thinking that his “little” sins, that is, his “small” debts don’t count for very much.  If the truth be told, I’m guilty of this myself (at least sometimes).   Now, I don’t mean to crank up the Catholic guilt complex but I do think that we need to reevaluate just how much we owe God.  Part of the error here is that we often see our sins in comparison to the sins of others – it’s easy to walk away thinking “Hey, I may not be perfect, but I’m not all that bad either.”  Notice that the only way we can fall into this error is if we judge ourselves and judge others too – something we’re never supposed to do (recall the reflection on Judging Others in Luke 6:37-42).  To regain a sense of the gravity of our sins we have to remind ourselves that even the smallest un-repented sin will keep us from heaven.

I’m not saying this so that we think we are evil, wicked, and worthless.  I’m saying it so that, unlike the Pharisee, we can be in a right relationship with God.  I’m saying it so that we realize that if God forgives even one sin he has forgiven a very large debt.  Don’t think so?  That’s kind of my point – it’s easy for us to underestimate the gravity of sin and the debt we owe God.

Our prayerful response should be to ask for the grace to see things as they are – to understand the true meaning of even our “little” sins and the love God shows us in forgiving them.  We should pray for the grace to love our forgiver for the great debt that He pardons.

Fuel for Prayer – Some questions

Whenever we see something in scripture that makes us ask questions we have to recognize it as an invitation to prayer.  Here are a few questions that jump out at me as I read this passage.

Who is Simon?  Is he a Pharisee that is genuinely interested in Christ?  Or is he a Pharisee that is trying to set Christ up for a fall?

What’s the deal with the sinful woman?  How did she even get in the house? She knocked at the door and said “Hi, I wanted to come in and blubber all over your dinner guest.”  Can you imagine Simon or his wife allowing the woman to come in?  It would scandalize them among their neighbors.  Or did Simon set the whole thing up just to see if Jesus really was a prophet – would he “detect” her sinfulness?

What kind of courage must this sinful woman have?  How hard must it be for an adulterer, or a prostitute, or whatever kind of sinner she was, to go to the house of a Pharisee?  Or could it be that she’s beyond courage and fear.  She’s so filled with gratitude for Jesus that she forgets to fear the judgement of the Pharisee and his friends.

Why didn’t the Pharisee have Jesus’ feet washed, or greet Him with a kiss of peace, or anoint his head with oil?  These were acts of common courtesy in the first century Oriental culture.

If any of these questions strike you as odd or curious then I invite you to take them to prayer for yourself.  Ask God “what’s up with that?”

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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