There are many base sins that drag us alone in life, making us miserable. We experience sin as coming from other people, but also from within ourselves. So we often respond sinfully to the sins of others. Wow, we are a mess. But there is no sin that seems to bring the displeasure of God than that of self-righteous pride. Interestingly, the nature of this sin tends to blind us from its presence in us, since we think highly of our standing before God and other people. To whom then are we accountable? Who can be helpful in battling our sin when we either refuse to see it, or we disqualify those who could as worse sinners than ourselves? This is an ominous dilemma resulting in broken relationships and hardened hearts, as the sin of pride makes unavailable gracious help where needed.
Luke 7:36-50 recounts an event in the ministry of Jesus in which he is invited to a Pharisee’s home for a meal. After the meal began, a woman of the streets (“a sinner”), came into the home uninvited and began to wet Jesus’ feet with tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with ointment, all to the disgust and dismay of the Pharisee, Simon. He reacted in his heart, not in stated words, claiming that Jesus should have known this woman a sinner and forbade her touching him. A student of the law, and intent on keeping the letter of it, Simon felt indignation toward one who, in his estimation, overtly shunned the law and made little effort to keep it. Furthermore, she was a commoner, and outcast, marginalized and thus rejected by society. Hers was a despicable condition worthy of condemnation and isolation. Compared to his own righteousness, this woman’s sins were glaring, odious, and contemptible.
Simon not only felt self-righteous toward the woman, but also toward Jesus. Verse thirty-nine reads: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’" In his mind no true prophet would allow for himself treatment as such from this “sinner” of a woman. Simon believed that a worthy prophet would certainly have known that this woman is someone to be shunned.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s presumptuously self-righteous thoughts is astonishing (our Lord knew his thoughts). He told him a story and then asked him a question (vv.40-42).
And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."And he answered, "Say it, Teacher." "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon’s response follows Jesus’ logic. He did not dodge it. He admitted that the person whose cancelled debt was larger would have greater reason to love the moneylender more. Jesus credited him with giving the right answer, but went on to help him see the relationship of cancelled debt and subsequent love. Jesus referred to the actions of the woman as correlating to her felt love of Jesus. Her love, which was great, was owing to the great debt that had been forgiven her. It was her faith in Jesus, seeing Him for who he really is and trusting in Him, demonstrated in her loving response to Him, that signaled that she understood the depth of forgiveness offered to her. Simon could not see this because his self-righteous pride blinded him from the reality of His sin—sin deeper than external actions, the overt breaking of God’s law. To Simon, the law was a means of managing sin through self-effort. He was blind to the truth that the essence of sin in the heart of man is that it cannot be managed or measured. His self-righteousness was actually a demonstration that he had none and that he could not see his own blindness.
This has tremendous application for us. We are by nature proud people who are blinded to the depths and nature of our sin. We try to manage sin though our proud self-efforts, oftentimes comparing ourselves against “sinners” who don’t measure up. I fear that I, like most of us, have more in common with the Pharisee than the sinful woman. Why do I say this? Because the account here in the life of Jesus teaches us that the one who is full of gratitude, realizing with great awareness the scope, depth, and severity of our sin, is the one who will love God mostly and worship Him spontaneously and freely. I must confess that I see little of this kind of love springing from my heart. Grumbling and criticizing flow more freely from my mouth (and muse in my thoughts) than does praise and worship of God.
Interestingly, Jesus did not condemn Simon. He asked him to take another look at the woman through different eyes. He wanted Simon to see her as He sees her. Jesus wanted Simon to see this woman as a testimony of faith. In other words, Jesus was merciful toward Simon. He was calling on Simon to learn from this woman’s humility, faith, and worship. Likewise, Jesus never exposes our sin to condemn us, but to show us His great mercy, calling us to Himself for forgiveness and grace. When we see Jesus as He really is, a friend of sinners, who paid the ultimate price to buy redemption, we are moved to worship. Only as we see our sin in light of His standard of perfection do we give up efforts to achieve it and accept His grace in having achieved it in our behalf. Only with a right view of sin and the adequacy God provides in Jesus will we become worshipers, who delight to wash and anoint His feet.
Notice also that Jesus sent the believing woman away in peace. She did not have to continue striving to overcome her sin. Jesus became sin for her. Now she was free to love him, because the love of her sin was losing its power. The only remedy for agitation and frantic activity (and the incessant compulsion to compare with other people) is to rest in the free grace of God, ever remembering the debt that was paid in our behalf, seeking to know our precious Savior more and more.