Sometimes I enjoy imagining how I’ll respond to Jesus when I first see him face-to-face.
I really hope my approach will be kind of like the woman’s in the following story… Can I share with you one of my favourite parts of the Bible?
36-39One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
40Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
41-42“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
43-47Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
48Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
49That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
50He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
So Jesus has been asked to eat at the home of Simon, one of the Pharisees (people known in the community for their strict religious practices). One of the local prostitutes hears that Jesus is in town. While we don’t know her background, I can imagine she didn’t really have a steady income – and she wouldn’t use a bottle of such expensive perfume on just anyone. It was worth about a year’s salary, per pound. But she was so eager not only to see Jesus, to touch him… but to lavish a seemingly wasteful amount on him. Then proceed to make a major scene, crying and washing his feet with her tears. Such a beautiful description, isn’t it?
How would you have reacted if you saw this happen? Wondered if she was crazy? Question what a man like Jesus would think – this holy man, great teacher, son of God… receiving this kind of attention from the town harlot?
Well, Simon makes a comment at this point which kind of misses the point. He questions whether Jesus was “the prophet he thought he was” if he can’t even pick up on the fact that a prostitute is at his feet. He isn’t even observing Jesus’ reaction, or imagining why she would’ve wasted all this money. He’s still stuck on the fact that Jesus is allowing her to do it in the first place… He obviously isn’t aware of who she is, or he would have stopped it – right?
At this point Jesus proceeds to tell Simon a story about two men in debt. Concluding that the one who is forgiven most is the one who is more grateful [or in other translations, ‘loves more’], he takes a dig at Simon for not doing what she has in fact done – describing all the ways she has honoured him and lavished love and attention on him. Her gratitude is massive on her part because she’s done a lot of destructive things in her life. He knows her life, because he’s Jesus. And in her realisation of how much this Jesus can do for her, he offers her the gift he offers all of us, no matter what we’ve done – forgiveness. He ignores the judgmental whispers of those around them – and praises her faith, telling her to go in peace.
There are so many layers to this story, but what I love the most about it is the woman’s unashamed passion for Jesus, and what she sacrificed just to be in his presence. She offered him her profound love, faith and worship, ignoring the judgments swimming around her. She impressed him more than anyone else because she was the only one who truly showed him honour. If she cared about the whispers, she didn’t show it. She just went for it – threw herself on him in adoration, sobbing her heart out. This was Jesus, the one who would save her from her sins. She had no allegiance to the opinions of others. How I love this woman. But even more, I adore Jesus’ response to her.
He affords her such dignity for doing the exact opposite of what people expected – and confounds his critics in the process.
How often do you do what others expect of you rather than going to God? It’s simply bondage when you spend all your life doing only what the people around you think you should do – or what seems the most religious, or ‘right’ thing to do. Or maybe you’re caught up in pushing yourself and even others into works-based, guilt-tripped Christian ‘sacrifice’ – when all Jesus wants right now is you sitting at his feet saying ‘Thank you! I love you! Please show me how to love you best…’
I know in my life I’ve wasted too much time building idols out of the opinions and expectations of others. I’m so inspired by this woman because she really knows what Jesus values. A heart open to him. Carefree worship that presses on valiantly despite public opinion. Faith that he will forgive and heal. And a heart of absolute surrender. Here is a woman willing to give a love offering that will cost her. It all comes down to love, doesn’t it? Love of Jesus, the only one who can forgive, heal, and put us back on our feet. The only one who truly sees us for our hearts…
I won’t see Jesus in person this side of heaven. But it’s my dream that when I do cross the finish line, I will fall on this beautiful man-God, sobbing my heart out with the words ‘Thank you, thank you! Let me wash your feet…I’ll do anything to thank you for what you’ve done for me!’
Until then, I can only ask for the faith to believe he can forgive, the boldness to give him true honour in my life – and the passion to proclaim his name in whatever way I can – conventional or otherwise.
For further reading on this passage, start with: http://bible.org/seriespage/wordless-worship-unnamed-woman-luke-736-50
And a song…