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If we want to learn how to live the best life possible, we have to pay attention to what the person who lived the very best life said and did.
Jesus gave the world several outstanding “life lessons” in a single dinner party. By paying attention to his behavior and his words, we will add significant attitudes and actions to what will make up the best life possible.
A Dinner to Honor Jesus
Jesus was invited to a dinner party at the home of Simon the Pharisee in an undisclosed Galilean town. As we follow Luke’s account of the dinner, the article will provide some cultural background information to help us understand the event better.
— Luke 7.36 – 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.
Dinner parties were often given in honor of dignitaries and to raise the status of the host. These dinners usually included insightful discussions on various important topics of the day.
Guests at the party reclined on pillows, situated in a horseshoe shape around the food with their feet were extended to the rear. Servants brought the food to the area in front of the guests.
When the servants were not working, they stood behind the guests out of the way. Uninvited persons were permitted to stand with the servants. They were not allowed to participate in the event, but they could observe the gathering.
— Luke 7.37 – 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.
Ritual purity laws were strictly observed for meetings in the homes of Pharisees. A woman, who was a known sinner, was certain to draw the attention of Simon and his guests.
The woman was identified to be a “sinner.” Such a designation does not necessarily refer to her status as a prostitute, but it is a good possibility that she was one.
Tradition has identified the woman as Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned immediately after this episode in Luke 8.2. It is possible that the woman was Mary, but whether it was or not cannot be confirmed with certainty from the relevant Bible passages.
The fact that the woman brought the ointment indicates that her actions were not spontaneous but prepared for in advance.
If the woman were a prostitute, the ointment was probably used in her work, which added a greater offense to what she did next.
— Luke 7.38 – 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.
If the woman hadn’t been weeping, her actions would have been seen as highly seductive. For a woman to take down her hair was quite objectionable in the first century.
Kissing Jesus’ feet and anointing him with the ointment was viewed as crossing a significant boundary of what was proper, both for her and for Jesus.
However, her tears revealed the condition of her heart. Her act was one of humility, devotion and love.
— Luke 7.39 – 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.”
The Pharisee was most certainly horrified at what was happening to his dinner party. All ritual purity concerns had been properly observed, until this woman – a sinner – appeared.
His guest of honor, a supposed prophet, should have known that a sinful woman was kissing his feet. I expect Simon was wondering how he could overcome such an embarrassing situation and get the meal over with as quickly as possible.
— Luke 7.40 – Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”
What Jesus said next made it clear to Simon that he, in fact, did know what was happening. He knew the intentions of the woman’s actions. In addition, he also knew what Simon was thinking.
The Parable of Two Debtors
Jesus told Simon, and all of the people surrounding the table, a short parable. The parable asked Simon to be the judge of what he thought was right.
Jesus said, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7.41-42).
Simon was able to do the math on what was owed the creditor. In one case he was owed the equivalent of 1 1/2 years of labor. In the other case it was only four months.
Simon assumed the role of a judge and answered Jesus, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly” (Luke 7.43).
The Parable Applied
Jesus then applied the parable to the situation of the woman and to Simon. Again, let’s read each verse and make comments along the way.
— Verse 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.”
The problem with Simon is that he didn’t see the woman. All he saw was a “sinner.”
If we want to live like Jesus, we have to see really people – not their race, whether they appear to be rich or poor, their political affiliation, or some moral judgment on our part.
Simon saw a woman whom he believed to be a sinner. Jesus saw a woman whom he knew to be a forgiven sinner. We need to learn how to see people through Jesus’ eyes.
— Verses 45-46 – “You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
The host was not required to provide ointment or a greeting with a kiss. However, the least a host could do was to provide water and a towel for the guests to wash their own feet.
We assume Jesus ate with Simon and his friends, because he was a dignitary. It was customary to anoint the head of important people with a fragrant oil.
In her devotion to Jesus the woman used an expensive ointment, rather than oil. The ointment was reserved for special occasion. For her, the transformation of her life through the ministry of Jesus was definitely a special occasion.
— Verse 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.”
Simon thought to himself that Jesus couldn’t be a prophet, since he permitted the woman to act toward him the way she did (verse 39).
Jesus proved himself to be a prophet and to be more than a prophet. First, he knew what Simon was thinking and he knew the woman’s motives.
Jesus was more than a prophet, because he was also able to forgive the woman’s sins.
— Verses 48-49 – Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
In Jesus’ day only priests were able to pronounce forgiveness of sins. The main way that people received forgiveness for sins was through making sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.
The guests at the party had just witnessed a sinful woman perform a highly irregular and offensive act. They heard Jesus pronounce forgiveness of sins in a manner that their religious system opposed. I am sure their outrage was extremely pronounced.
Tomorrow’s article will be devoted to Jesus’ view of sin and forgiveness. It will connect the Parable of the Two Debtors and the woman’s experience with that of other instances of forgiveness in the Gospel of Luke.
— Verse 50 – And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The woman’s love and faith mingled together and produced a saving event that brought her well-being.
What can we learn about living a Jesus-kind-of-life from the situation that surrounded the parable of the Two Debtors?
(1) In both of the parables that we have studied so far, the creditor had no interest in the amount of money he had lost. This is a picture of God’s willingness to forgive sins. Praise God!
(2) Forgiveness will transform your life. The debtor in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant was expected to be generous to people who were indebted to him. A greater capacity to love was highlighted in the parable of the Two Debtors.
If God’s forgiveness has not changed our attitude toward God and other people, we need to evaluate our lives and make sure we have actually experienced his forgiveness.
(3) People who desire to live like Jesus will strive to see other people as Jesus sees them. Every “sinner” we meet is some mother’s son or daughter and a person who is loved by God.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, “Stories With Intent.” His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
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