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The Prostitute and the Pharisee

• Greg Boyd

Greg picked up where he left off about a month ago with the theme of love, which he has been contrasting to “the knowledge of good and evil.” He used the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in the Pharisee’s house (read Luke 7:31-50) as an illustration of the difference between relating to others in love vs. relating to others through our own knowledge of good and evil.

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Greg picked up where he left off about a month ago with the theme of love, which he has been contrasting to “the knowledge of good and evil”. He used the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in the Pharisee’s house (read Luke 7:31-50) as an illustration of the difference between relating to others in love vs. relating to others through our own knowledge of good and evil. There are several distinguishable sections in this passage: vs. 31-35 describes “the people of this generation” as people who lamented the fact that the messengers of God did not conform to their own behavior. When they saw this they made accusations against the messengers regardless of what they did. John was criticized (accused of being possessed!) for refusing bread and wine and Jesus was criticized for eating bread and drinking wine with the wrong people. The closing line assures us that God’s wisdom (whether we recognize it or not) will be vindicated by its fruit.

The next section describes the woman who comes to visit Jesus as he is eating in the Pharisee’s home. Greg emphasized her status as heavily judged by the standards of her society, especially judged by the owner of the house she is coming to visit. Greg speculated that she was likely a prostitute and that she would be particularly unwelcome in this house. Her behavior toward Jesus probably would have been seen as quite sensual and inappropriate, not only because she seemed to be using the “tools of her trade” (rubbing his feet, massaging with fine oils, using her hair, etc.) in showing affection to Jesus, but that she goes further and worships him in this manner. She gives Jesus all that she has in the only way she knows how. She pours herself out to him, even in front of those who would surely condemn her, perhaps even kill her. This is a radical and desperate act!

As the Pharisee began to object, Jesus interrupted with a parable. The parable was about two debtors who were forgiven their debts; one who owed a huge amount and the other only a small amount. Jesus asked which one would love the creditor more? The Pharisee’s response, of course, is that the one who was forgiven the greater debt would love the creditor more. Jesus then used this response to explain why this woman, whom all knew to be of poor reputation and grievous public sin, was responding in such a powerful way to the mercy she knew Jesus had for her. He contrasted her generous attention to him with the lack of basic hospitality that the Pharisee showed Jesus as his guest. He closes this conversation by turning to the woman and proclaiming to her the forgiveness of her sins. The Pharisees respond with bewilderment at a man who claims to forgive sins, something which everyone knows only God can do.

Greg followed this story up with a memory from his own childhood where he offered only the meager things a child would have in his pocket to an ice cream man in hopes of receiving some ice cream like the rest of the children. Of course, what he had was of no real value, but the ice cream man was merciful and understood that it was all that Greg had, and that Greg was desperate for the ice cream. The man took what Greg had, and gave him what he desperately wanted, though he did not really deserve it or pay for it properly. It was an act of grace (unmerited generosity).

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Sermon Series: Love and Judgement


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 7:31-50

    31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
    “ 'We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.'

    33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children."
    36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 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. 38 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 people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, [a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

    43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven."
    “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—as her great love has shown. But whoever 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.”

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