An awkward-turtle moment in Capernaum – part 2 (Luke 7:34-50)

Yesterday, we started looking at the story of Jesus at Simon’s house in Capernaum, where a “woman of ill repute” poured perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair. (You need to read that post before beginning today’s. ) After Jesus’ parable about the man who had been forgiven a great debt vs the man who had been forgiven a smaller debt, we looked firstly at the woman’s response. She’s aware of how much she’s been forgiven, hence her great show of affection. Today, we look at the response of the two other characters in the story: Simon and Jesus.


You see, one reason we might not respond with an inappropriate display of gratitude is that we don’t get it. Like Simon the Pharisee, maybe we don’t get the extent of God’s mercy because don’t think we needed much to begin with. And so we don’t show much love, much gratitude – in response.

Did you notice the sharp contrast between the woman’s actions, and Simon’s? Her extravagant display of affection, versus his lack of attention to the basics of first-century hospitality. Read again:

7:44-46 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

But it’s not really Simon’s social oversights Jesus is critiquing. It’s his religious attitude; his sense of moral superiority; his affront that Jesus could hang out with ‘sinners’ like this woman. Why is Simon like this? Why does he respond in this way? Jesus explains it, when he compares their actions:

7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

In other words, Simon is being a grace Grinch because he is one of those who has been ‘forgiven little’. Now what does that mean – forgiven little? Does it mean that he sinned less than the woman? Maybe. But he’s still a sinner in the eyes of God, and facing exactly the same punishment.

The problem is, his religious observance has made him less aware of his sin. The more he tries to do the right thing, the more superior he feels. The more laws he keeps, the more justified he becomes in his own eyes. Unlike the woman, he’s not an ‘obvious’ sinner. Which means he doesn’t appreciate the depth of his sin – the sheer amount of sin that he still needs forgiven. And so he doesn’t fully appreciate grace.

And that’s what makes him so offended at Jesus’ gracious acceptance of the woman. He’s still relying on his outward display of religion and morality to be acceptable to God. Which is why he wants to exclude the woman; why he wants Jesus to exclude her. Because if God can accept her, despite her sin – then his own basis for being right with God crumbles.

Simon doesn’t get the depth of mercy Jesus offers, because he doesn’t think he needs much. He’s pretty much right on his own.

What about us?

To appreciate the depth of God’s mercy, we need to appreciate the depth of our sin. That no matter how ‘good’ or ‘religious’ we might be, each of us still needed to be forgiven much. We still needed the cross, just as much as the worst of sinners.

Because when it comes down to it, we’re no better. Most of the time it’s just a matter of our environment that makes us outwardly moral. If we were brought up in a stable home, in a peaceful country, given a decent education, and not desperately poor – then we’re quite likely going to be behave in ways that are more moral and respectable than people from disturbed and disadvantaged backgrounds. But it doesn’t make us any less of a sinner.

We’ve all rebelled against God. We’re all basically selfish. And we all think evil things, even though our upbringing might restrain us from acting on many of them. Jesus himself said that lustful thoughts were just as bad as adultery; that hatred was as bad as murder.

A true appreciation of God’s grace begins with a true appreciation of the depth of our sin. We all fall short. We are all utterly filthy in the sight of God. All have sinned, as I’m sure it says somewhere else in the Bible…


But for some of us, that might not be a problem. We’re all too aware of the depth of our sin. It’s the ability of God’s grace to cover that sin that wehave a hard time grasping. Maybe we think we’re beyond forgiveness?

That’s where we need to look at Jesus’ response. You see, this story isn’t just told in order to set Simon the Pharisee straight. To help him realise his need for forgiveness – and not just him, but anyone who might think like him. This story is also told for those of us who think we’re beyond forgiving. That God’s mercy can’t stretch so far as to reach  me.

Here, and in many other stories throughout the gospels, we see Jesus reaching out to the worst of sinners. People who’d broken God’s laws in an obvious, often spectacular fashion. People whom society had condemned. People from whom established religion had run a mile.

But Jesus lets them come near. Jesus shows mercy. No matter who they are. No matter what they’ve done. Read to his words at the end:

7:48-50 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” [You just can’t shut the religious types up, can you?!] Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Think about it. If a first-century prostitute can be shown mercy, how will it be any different with you or me? Jesus specialises in reaching out to those who are the most broken. Those who realise they are the most in need of forgiveness. That’s what he came to do. As he said a couple of chapters back:

Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

That is, he didn’t come to save those who think they’re ok; who, like Simon, don’t think they need much forgiveness at all. He came to save those who are aware of their awful state before a holy God. Who realise they’re incapable of making things right on their own. Who instead, reach out and ask for forgiveness.

Jesus came to save those who gladly accept what he’s done on their behalf. And who celebrate with great joy and gratitude when they realise how much mercy they’ve been shown. No matter how much of a scene they create!

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