Tonight, on this Thanksgiving Eve, we have an encounter with Jesus that maybe sounds a little different, but is still familiar to you. You see – and you might know this, you might not – Jesus was anointed twice by two different women in the Bible. The one anointing that I would guess is most familiar to us is that one at Bethany just before Palm Sunday. That time when Judas and the other disciples pipe up and says that famous line, “This perfume could’ve been sold, and the money given to the poor.” That’s not this account. That’s not this anointing. This anointing of Jesus happened well before Palm Sunday Eve. And it all started with Jesus being invited to a dinner party.
Now, what’s interesting about this dinner is that the host is a Pharisee named Simon. And one might wonder why this Pharisee invited Jesus into his home for a meal. This would’ve been rather strange. Jesus and the Pharisees didn’t get along. The Pharisees wanted nothing to do with Jesus. And, to my knowledge, only one other Pharisee sought to meet with Jesus, and out of fear he met with Jesus in the middle of the night – that was Nicodemus if you recall. So, it could be that Simon was bolder than Nicodemus and, wanting to hear what Jesus had to say, had him over for dinner. On the other hand, maybe this was Simon’s attempt to trap Jesus. It could also be though that Simon was just doing what a lot of wealthy upper-class people did back then. This upper class of society would often invite famous people into their homes just to kind hear them out, and Jesus being this confrontational figure would certainly make Simon’s dinner party an event you didn’t want to miss. Regardless of Simon’s reason for the invite, Jesus accepted.
And so, Jesus is at this meal. He’s eating. He’s reclined at the table with his feet up at his side and, as this meal is going on, what happens? Look at verse 37 with me, “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.” There are maybe two, maybe three, things to note about this woman. She’s unnamed. We don’t know who she is, but we do know she’s from the area and she’s a sinner. Now, if you go back to the Greek, the Greek says this was a woman of the city, which many take to mean that she was a prostitute. This woman also seemed to know who Jesus was, to the point, that she was willing to enter the house of a prominent Pharisee – a place where a person like her did not belong – all to find Jesus.
Now, really quickly, how did this woman get into this house? Well, again, culturally it wasn’t unusual that when someone prominent was invited into a home, that others in the community could file in and listen to the conversation, which seems to be what this woman was doing. Alright, picture then with me what happens when she finds Jesus.
She stands there behind Jesus – and remember Jesus is reclining at a table his feet are up and perhaps behind him just a bit, so she is behind Jesus and she begins to cry, perhaps silently, but her tears are so great that they fall on Jesus’ feet, and those feet become wet. Jesus maybe didn’t even know she was there until those tears began to hit his feet, then this woman lets her hair down, and she begins to dry Jesus’ wet feet with her hair and she kisses them. Then she takes that expensive jar of perfume, and she pours it out on those same feet. It’s a powerful scene. I imagine there almost being a dead silence as this moment unfolded.
But, as this scene unfolds, Luke tells us that Simon, the host, can’t believe it. He reasoned that if Jesus was a prophet, he wouldn’t have allowed such a woman to touch him. Again, it could be that Simon wanted Jesus to be whom he claimed to be. It could be that Simon was hoping that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, but this moment caused Simon to doubt. You see Simon could not believe that a holy man, a Savior, would want anything to do with someone like that. And this is where Simon had it all wrong. So, Jesus says to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
Then Jesus proceeds to tell a really simple, but brilliant, parable about two people who owe vastly different debts and how the money lender eventually forgives both. And, after telling this story, Jesus asks a question, who will love this money lender more? That question has an obvious answer: the one whose debt had been bigger. Now, why did Jesus tell this parable?
Well, Jesus was trying to suggest that even though this woman might “owe” more – her sin might be greater – Simon “owes” too. Simon is a sinner too. This parable then is not about how much you owe but an awareness about the debt that you owe, and an awareness about the grace of God to cancel whatever the amount of sin is that exists in your life. Maybe think of it this way. You might one day die in your sleep very peacefully or you might get hit by a bus while crossing the street and die quite suddenly. One of those deaths is certainly a lot messier, but one of those is not more dead than the other. Both are equally dead. Simon and this woman were both equally sinners and equally needed a Savior. Simon didn’t get this. The woman did. Do you?
You see sometimes you and I can be Simon. And sin to us is simply breaking the rules, breaking God’s commandments. And so we either A) try really hard not to break the commandments – and some of us are better at that than others – or, maybe, B) we break some commandments but we figure others are worse and that gives us some comfort or, finally C) we’re sort of indifferent because we know, “Eh, God’s going to forgive me.” Now, there’s actually also a D), a fourth line of thought.
There are also people out there, and maybe you’re one of them, who feel a lot of guilt over their sin, and they really struggle to forgive themselves. Again, maybe this is you, and you’re extremely hard on yourself. You need to be better. You know you can be better. That might sound noble and good but, if you’re that type of person, you’re still missing the point, just like Simon. So, what was Simon missing? It’s what you and I need to be reminded of just constantly.
The difference Jesus was trying to get across to Simon wasn’t that this woman needed salvation more than he did, but that she realized it more than Simon did. Do you see the difference? This woman was a believer who understood completely what she had in Jesus, and she was overwhelmed by it. She wept over it. She was thankful.
This woman’s focus then was not on keeping all the commandments. It wasn’t on comparing herself to others. She also didn’t just brush off her sins, and she definitely didn’t beat herself up and feel like she wasn’t worthy of any forgiveness until she got her act together. No, her focus was on Jesus. That’s why she walked into a room where she knew she was not welcome because of her past and she stood by her Lord, and wept tears of joy and thanks, and kissed and anointed those feet that would soon hang from a cross because it was those feet it was that person – it was Jesus alone! – who saved her from her sins. And she knew it. So, Jesus had all her attention, all her focus.
So it was, as she did all of this, Jesus looked at her and said words that she already believed to be true, “Your sins are forgiven.” Dear friends, in Christ your sins are forgiven. Now, like this unnamed woman, understand what that means and give thanks! You don’t have to be burdened by the law, the commandments. You don’t have to try and compare yourselves to other sinners. Stop carrying around that guilt. Stop trying to convince yourself that you need to do more as if what Jesus did was not enough. And please see how this forgiveness you have deserves more than just a shoulder shrug and some indifference. Don’t be like Simon, instead weep with that woman. Be thankful! Jesus has saved you! Heaven’s gates stand open before you!
Your debt may be great. Your debt may be small, it makes no difference. Jesus paid it. Believe it. Believe what the Spirit has shown you to be true. And, know this, “Your faith has saved you” and you can “go in peace.”
Now, you and I can’t really express our thanks to Jesus in the same way that this woman did, but I pray, on this Thanksgiving Eve, that this story stays with you, and that your forgiveness and peace in Christ Jesus leads you to find unique ways where you too can give God your thanks.