Our need for God’s forgiveness (as well as its relationship to us forgiving others), is brought home in a major way in a story that Luke records in 7:36-50 of his gospel. Following Tiede (Augsburg Commentary), it seems that having shown Jesus’ teaching (“When Jesus has finished saying all of this,” – v. 1), Luke zooms in for a closer look at the person who is saying these remarkable things. The collection of stories that follow show us that Jesus is a prophet like no other (Deuteronomy 18:15ff). He is the prophet who reaches outside His own (v. 1-10), the “great prophet,” who raises the dead (v. 11-16), the “One who is to come,” (v. 18-35), and in our story, the prophet who forgives sin (v. 36-50).
Jesus has been invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While they are eating (“reclined at the table” – v. 36), a woman comes in off the street and stands near the feet of Jesus, weeping uncontrollably. Her tears spill on to His feet and she begins to wipe them with her hair. Then she kisses His feet and anoints them with some perfume she has brought. Simon is mortified by all of this. As host, he has lost control. This uninvited woman (whom everyone knows to be a sinner – v. 39), has spoiled the occasion. His anger and frustration overflow in Jesus’ direction. If He is a prophet, He should know what kind of woman she is!
The simple story Jesus tells Simon in response to his unspoken thought (v. 41-43), has to do with gratitude (love). Why do some love more than others? The answer is because they realize how greatly they’ve been loved (forgiven). Simon hasn’t shown that kind of love because although he can see the greatness of sin in the woman before him, he is unable to see it in himself. By diminishing his sin, forgiveness is minimized and gratitude all but goes away. What is left is a human centered religion, rather than a Christ centered faith.
We don’t know what the woman had heard about Jesus to make her respond in such a passionate manner. Perhaps she had heard Him teach and His words had sunk deeply into her heart. Or maybe she had just heard about Him from others and knew from their words He was more than a man. It seems likely to me that she had a previous encounter with Christ where she experienced His forgiveness. Having heard He was at Simon’s house (v. 37), she comes with her bottle of perfume to show her gratitude. The NIV’s reading in v. 47 is consistent with this reconstruction. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.” Jesus’ words of v. 48 then are not only reassurance to her, but proof of His authority to forgive (v. 49).
Simon had only condemning thoughts for the woman Jesus had forgiven. If we really understand our sin we won’t be tempted to trivialize our forgiveness. We will love deeply and in a way that shares the forgiveness we’ve received.