This week in worship, we continue our worship series, “What is God Like? The Attributes of God based on Psalm 86. Pastor Doug will share a story from Luke 7 that is an example of the next attribute that “God is Good and Forgiving.”
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God Is Good and Forgiving
If someone stopped you on the street and asked you, “What is God like?” What would your first, immediate answer be? I wonder how many of us would quickly say, “God is good and forgiving.”
That is how Psalm 86.5 answers that question,
“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.”
I’m not going to focus on “abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you,” today because that will get its own Sunday next month. I regret that good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love is not the way many people, whether Christians or not, think of God. The Bible repeatedly states that God is good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love and you see that especially in the life of Jesus, in encounter after encounter with different individuals.
Today I’m sharing a Jesus story that takes place in a Pharisee’s house. A Pharisee was someone who belonged to a Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law of Moses. They were very dedicated people who took their religion seriously as many of you do. They were determined to keep themselves separate from any type of impurity that might violate God’s laws and commandments. There are three main characters in the story. A Pharisee named Simon who is having Jesus at his home for a meal, a woman, and Jesus. Here’s the story: Luke 7.36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The story begins, “36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.” This might seem like nothing more than a piece of information setting up what follows, but it’s very important. When you read a story in the Bible it’s helpful to know what happened leading up to it.
If you look back a couple chapters in Luke’s Gospel you understand why a Pharisee asking Jesus to eat with him and Jesus accepting the invitation is so significant.
The first time we hear about the Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel is Luke 5:17, “One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.”
The Pharisees accuse Jesus of “speaking blasphemies” which means saying something concerning God that’s disrespectful or untrue, or claiming to possess the attributes of God. This begins a pattern of Pharisees criticizing Jesus and questioning his motives and statements.
Luke 5:21, “the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Luke 5:30, “The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Luke 5:33, “Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.”
Luke 6:1-2, “One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”
Then also on the sabbath Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and there was a man with a withered hand. Luke 6:7, “The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.” After Jesus asks them a question which they don’t answer, Jesus heals the man and the response of the Pharisees is Luke 6:11, “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”
Finally, leading up to the dinner invitation, Luke 7:30 says, “But by refusing to be baptized by him (John the Baptist), the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”
Can you see there’s some serious tension between the Pharisees and Jesus?
Yet Simon asks Jesus to his home for dinner, the question is why?
This is like a Republican asking a Democrat over for dinner. Like someone who believes strongly in the efficacy and importance of vaccines inviting someone who refuses vaccines.
Is Simon looking for a chance to trap Jesus, argue with him, convince Jesus that his understanding of right living and right belief are wrong? Or is he curious and wanting to know more about and to better understand this man who has said and done so many provocative and remarkable things? I’m going with the latter. Let’s look at Simon.
Simon I believe Simon was excited to have Jesus in his home. What an opportunity to have this man who is creating such a stir under my own roof. A chance to ask puzzling questions to this fascinating teacher to enjoy conversation and the best food I can provide. A chance to get Jesus away from the noise and the crush of the crowds and even other Pharisees and to have this precious and unrepeatable opportunity.
I can imagine his excitement and anticipation and his sparing no expense to make the evening as perfect as possible. I’m guess some of us can relate to Simon; that we’d approach having Jesus in our home in a similar way. How thrilled, excited, nervous would you be to have Jesus in your home for a meal? How much would you want everything to be perfect? I’ll bet Simon’s heart was racing when Jesus entered and sat down at his table. And then this woman shows up, uninvited, and ruins all your plans. How would you have responded if you were Simon? I’m guessing you’d be really upset, angry, and disturbed.
The Woman At the heart of this story is a woman who knew she was a sinner. She carried hurts and wounds, shame, and pain. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment, stood behind Jesus, weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. This is a very intimate act and it’s happening in the home of a Pharisee who is stunned and scandalized that this is taking place and shocked that Jesus would allow this woman to touch him in this way.
Before you get all self-righteous about how you’re better than Simon and condemn him for his terrible attitude, ask yourself this: How would you respond, how comfortable would you be, if you invited me over for dinner, and a woman came in who was not invited who you’d never seen before and began to bathe my feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and kiss my feet and anoint them with oil? I’m not Jesus, but I suspect calls, texts, and emails would be flying, and I’d be getting called in for a conversation with the Advisory Council.
Jesus is, as always, amazing.
First, he accepts an invitation to dinner from someone who is part of a group that has been deeply hostile to him and has consistently questioned, accused him, and opposed him. Interestingly one of those accusations was about Jesus eating and drinking with sinners.
Second, Jesus is seemingly undisturbed both by Simon’s lack of hospitality and the woman’s personal and quite intimate act. Simon is cringing at what is taking place and thinks, “If this man was really a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman this is and wouldn’t let her near him much less touch him.”
Jesus doesn’t straight out tell Simon what’s wrong with him or his attitude, instead, he uses a story because you tend to be more open to the truth coming to you through a story. Jesus tells Simon he has something to say to him and Simon calls him Teacher, a sign of respect and I believe his openness to being taught.
Jesus tells a brief story about who will be more grateful the person with the smaller or larger debt and Simon answers correctly the one who is forgiven the larger debt.
Jesus then describes the contrast between Simon and the woman which couldn’t be starker in what he didn’t do, and what she did.
“Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
Simon, the Pharisee hosting the dinner is self-righteously sure of his own goodness. He shows Jesus no outpouring of unreserved, unabashed love. He doesn’t even perform the basic, expected acts of hospitality. He is judged by his own words and deeds.
The woman demonstrates her love through the overflow of her tears and the anointing she gives Jesus, and she leaves forgiven and in peace.
Like this woman, the tears caused by our hurts and wounds can be replaced with the anointing oil of God’s healing and forgiveness.
A key line in the story is Jesus saying to Simon “do you see this woman?” The answer is “No,” he didn’t. He saw a stereotype; he saw a generality. He didn’t see this woman as an individual. This is a serious problem we have as a society today. We don’t see people as an individual, as a person with worth and value, we label them, as Simon did, “who and what kind of woman this is.”
Like Simon, we can write people off, “you make one mistake, it’s attached to you forever, you never can shake it, it defines you for the rest of your life, that’s who and what kind of person you are.”
Other than Simon, the woman, and Jesus, there is one line in the story by “those who were at the table with him, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
This was part of the first questioning of Jesus by the Pharisees in Luke 5, and Luke’s answer is, the Son of God, that’s who, and Luke wants us to be able to answer that question that way.
Forgiveness is part of what makes relationships, healing, reconciliation, and community possible.
God is good and forgiving as Jesus is with both the woman and Simon. He wants to save and transform each of them, so they’ll embrace their identity as children of God and see each other that way too.
Forgiveness has incredible transforming power.
It’s needed desperately today when revenge, vindictiveness, condescension and an utter lack of grace, dignity, and maturity is being displayed in our culture. Please, don’t let that be the case with you and don’t spend time listening to or reading the work of people who act that way.
Seeing people as individuals and giving them hope through forgiveness rather than condemning them forever is what Jesus does and what his people are supposed to do.
The following true story was told to Philadelphia psychologist Jack Kornfield by the director of a nearby rehabilitation program for violent juvenile offenders:
One 14-year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, “I’m going to kill you.” Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in the juvenile facility.
After the first half-year the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor (in jail) he’d had. For a time, they talked, and when she left, she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step-by-step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts.
Near the end of his three-year sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help set him up with a job at a friend’s company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home. For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job. Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, “Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?” “I sure do,” he replied. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
“Well, I did it,” she went on. “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he’s gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room and I’d like to adopt you if you let me.” And she became the mother he never had.
That woman, like God, was good and forgiving in an amazing way to someone who didn’t deserve it. Whether we’re more like Simon the Pharisee or the woman who anointed Jesus, we all can thank God that forgiveness is available to us.
Prayer: Merciful God, we thank you that you are good and forgiving. You know what is in the deepest recesses of our hearts, minds, bodies, and memories. You know the hurts and wounds we have inflicted and the ones we carry. We believe that you long to forgive us when we turn from our mistakes and errors and you’re the God who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Lord, if our wounds are because we have sinned against you and others; help us repent and turn from them in this very moment while we still can. Be gracious to us and forgive, heal, and restore us. Create a clean heart within us and put a new and right spirit within us.
Gracious God, if we have been hurt or wounded and unable to forgive, to release, to let go of what happened – we pray today that you would heal, redeem, and renew us. Renew our spirit and restore to us the joy of your salvation. Anoint us with your healing Spirit and may your steadfast love and mercy overflow toward us today and forever, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
- When you think of God, what words come to mind for you? Are good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love near the top of your list? Whether they are or not, what difference does it make to understand God’s nature in this way?
- Share or reflect on a memorable dinner party you hosted or attended. Who was there? What made it memorable?
- How do you think you would have responded if you were hosting Jesus in your home and a woman came in uninvited and did what the woman did in Luke 7:36-50? Can you understand and relate to Simon’s uneasiness and uncomfortableness? What do you think you’d do?
- Put yourself in the place of the woman in the story. What are you risking by entering this home uninvited and doing what she did? What could have happened to her? How comfortable are you with very emotional responses by people in your presence? How do you think you’d feel to have someone do to you what she did to Jesus? Embarrassed? Humbled? Moved?
- What do you find most inspiring about what Jesus says and does in this story?
- What does this Jesus story tell us about your own need for forgiveness and your need to be forgiving? How can you be more like Jesus in seeing people as individuals and not as generalities or stereotypes? How can you love much?