Learning worship from a forgiven prostitute
Luke 7:36-50 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-- that she is a sinner." 40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. 41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. 44 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. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." 48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
The evening has been carefully planned. All the religious bigwigs are coming to Simon the Pharisee’s home. Jesus has been invited over. He is a rabbi, but He is new to the religious scene. He has been making waves among the Jews by doing and saying some pretty “unkosher” things. He cannot be ignored any longer. So Jesus is invited over so an investigation can take place. Is Jesus a prophet or isn’t He?
Simon has not invited Jesus as an equal. Rather, Simon has invited Jesus to insult Him. To provoke Him. To let Him know they are not in the same class as religious teachers.
The evening begins with Simon ignoring all the common courtesies that should have been given to Jesus as a guest in his home. No kiss as He enters the house. No water for washing His dusty feet. No sweet oil as a perfume to cover any body odor. It is clear to everyone at the party what is going on here. Simon is in control. He is the superior. Jesus is the lesser.
Somehow a prostitute sneaks into Simon’s house. Crashes his party. There is no way a self-respecting Pharisee would have welcomed that kind of woman under his roof. She ignores the hard stares from the men at the table. These are respectable, religious men who see clearly the sinful specks in the eyes of others, but fail to see the beam protruding from their own eyes. She knows what they think of her. She is a sinner – OK for a little after-party fun, but judged unworthy to actually attend the party.
She knows that it’s like to be shamed. She knows what it’s like to be insulted and demeaned. So she takes matters into her own hands. She makes sure Jesus receives the honor due Him.
Jesus is reclining at the dinner table, as Jews did to eat their meals. He is lying on His side with His feet outstretched beside Him. She has come to anoint Jesus’ head and hands with oil, as was Jewish custom. But His head and hands are not available to her at the table. What can she do?
The only thing she can do. She starts crying. These are tears of sorrow. Tears born from her many sins upon her bed with the men of the town. These are tears of sadness. Tears shed for Jesus because that evening He is enduring the same kinds of insults she has endured for years. And these are tears of joy. Tears poured forth from a heart and life that has been forgiven.
She does what should have already been done. She washes Jesus’ feet, using her tears as water. She dries His feet, not with a towel or her clothing, but with her hair. She pours oil on Jesus’ feet, as a sweet fragrance fills the room. She kisses His feet … and keeps on kissing them.
Everything that should have been done by Simon was done by her. That’s why Jesus pointedly tells 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. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Why did this woman come? Why was she so bold as to crash the respectable party of Simon the Pharisee? Why did she take such a chance? Luke tells us, “She learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house that day.” She came to see her God –- her God who came down to earth in the person of this man, Jesus of Nazareth. She came to spend time with the Christ. She came to have her greater debt cancelled. She came with perfume, kisses and tears because she loved more.
In the home, sitting at the dinner table is the one Man who understands her, who accepts her as she is, who loves her as no other man in her life. Here is a Man who will not hurt her or use her or abuse her. Here is the Man who would not judge her or reject her, but who had actually come specifically for her. He came to seek and save the lost. To redeem sinners. To be the Great Physician of body and soul. To be the Canceller of debts, both great and small.
She has come to know who Jesus is. Jesus has been proclaiming His message that God loves sinners. This is quite different than the message she was hearing from the Pharisees – that God cares for the righteous who keep the Law. But Jesus is different. Jesus is not a prophet who avoids sinners, but who searches them out, and cares for them, and even eats with them. She hears from Jesus that God not only loves sinners, but that His grace and forgiveness is available for them - for her! - even though she could not make compensation for her sins. She believes this! The Word of God from the mouth of Jesus had worked faith in her heart. Yes, she is forgiven! Thanks be to God! She is now at peace!
She comes to Jesus with nothing He needs, but needing everything from him. If she brings anything, it is faith — faith which itself is a gift of God. She is defiled and unclean, with her heart’s closet full of skeletons, yet still she comes. She is a pariah in polite society, shunned by the religious do-gooders, yet still she comes. She has no good works to place upon the altar of God, yet still she comes.
We can learn a lot about our worship from this forgiven prostitute. She comes with nothing. All she has to offer are tears, kisses, and perfume. She who wept upon, dried, and anointed the feet of Jesus – we sit at her feet to learn what true worship is.
Just as important a question as “why did this woman come” is … “why do you come?” Why do you come to sit in these pews instead of a deer stand or a shopping mall? Why do you come with tears trickling from your eyes and guilt pouring from your pores? Why do you empty your hard-earned money over Jesus and into the offering plates? Why do you serve Him in humility and kiss His feet in reverence?
We are not here because we have anything to offer God; any service; anything of worth. God does not need us. No, we are here because we need God. We are the guilty who need forgiveness. The weak who need strength. The low who need lifting up. The dirty who need cleansing. The broken who need to be restored. The prodigal who need a Father. The poisoned who need to be rescued. The lost who need to be found. The dead who need to be raised. The debtors who need cancellation.
We come with nothing. Nothing except our sins. We come to hear the message portrayed in two of our stained glass windows. It is a message that Simon the Pharisee needed to hear, that the prostitute at the table needed to hear, and that we need to hear – every day at home, every week in worship. It is the message of Law and Gospel. Sin and grace. Hell and heaven. The commandments and the cross.
We come to meet Jesus because unlike Simon, we realize that we are just like this sinful woman. Our debts of sin are huge. The Law has done its damage. It is has shocked our system. It has rocked our lives of complacency. It has awoken us from our slumber of sin.
The Law with its commands and lightning bolts illuminates just how badly we need to come to Jesus. Our lives are in shambles. Our children are messed up. Our marriages broken. Our guilt unbearable. Our anger unmanageable. Our lust insatiable. Our greed unmerciful.
We come here because we have learned that Jesus has come here. We come as lost and straying sheep. Our Good Shepherd calls and cares for us. We come because we have dwelt all week in the dominion of darkness, but here Jesus brings us into the kingdom of light. We come because we have spent the last few days squirming in Satan’s clutches, but Jesus has released us to live a new life as a child of God.
The Gospel with its manger, cross, and tomb proclaims the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. He puts our lives back together. He mends our families with His divine love. He binds two people together with His commitment of love. He removes our guilt. He replaces our anger. He satiates our lust. He extends grace to cover our greed.
We can learn a lot about our worship from this forgiven prostitute. We learn that the highest way of worshiping Jesus is to repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness.
Of all the acts of worship in which she could engage, none was greater than coming to Jesus with faith, knowing and believing that He loved her, accepted her, forgave her, and sent her on her way in peace. Her weeping, drying, anointing — all of those were beautiful, meaningful acts of worship, but they were not the greatest.
The highest act of worship is not even an act we do, but a gift we receive.
Worship is about responding to God. We pray, sing, praise, confess. But our response – a loving and grateful response – is nothing compared to what Jesus does for us. Worship is also about receiving from God. He forgives. He gives. He floods us with gifts beyond telling, all of which flow from His cross and Bible, onto our heads, into our mouths, into our open hands, and upon our thirsty souls.
We learn how to worship from this forgiven prostitute. We learn to come to Jesus. For this is where Law is heard. Where Gospel is proclaimed. Where sins are confessed. Where sins are forgiven. We come to worship Jesus. And then He sends us home with His peace. Amen.