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You are the Prostitute

• Greg Boyd

Greg read the story in Luke of the prostitute who interrupts Jesus’ dinner at a Pharisee’s home to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, kiss his feet, and anoint them with oil. The Pharisee looks down on her because he considers her sin greater than his own, but when God is the standard, neither he nor the prostitute has any advantage over the other. They both fall infinitely short. We too must relate to the prostitute because of how short we all fall compared to the perfection of God’s standard.

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Greg began by reading Luke 7:33-50, where Jesus expresses frustration with the “no win” situation he seems to be in with the Pharisees. John’s behavior seemed too strict to the Pharisees, and Jesus’ seemed too loose. Jesus dismisses these judgments and declares that the wisdom of both John’s and Jesus’ actions will be vindicated by their “children.” Greg explained that by “children” the author meant the product or “fruit” of their work.

From here the story is probably familiar to most Christians: Jesus is invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee. While there, a woman referred to as “a sinner” comes in and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, kisses his feet, and then anoints them with expensive oil from an alabaster jar. All of this is in stark contrast to the cold treatment that Jesus received from the host, so Jesus offers an illuminating analogy in the form of a question: “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Of course the Pharisee answered correctly–that it was the one forgiven more debt–but the question contains a bit of a trick. Only the Pharisee would imagine that the woman’s sin is greater than his own. When God is the standard, perfection is the only way to meet it. Neither the Pharisee nor the prostitute has any advantage over the other. They both fall short by an infinite amount. So the question must indicate something else.

Greg suggested that it is the woman’s honesty with her sin, her profound awareness of her need of God, that gives her the advantage. She is not deluded into thinking of herself more highly than she ought. All that she confesses will be redeemed by Christ’s blood. And she understands what it is to give it up. The Pharisees, however, are more tempted to consider much of their behavior as better than it really is. Their humility is neither as complete nor as reinforced by society as is the prostitute’s. In fact, rather than be grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus offered for the sins that they did confess, they were offended at the very idea of sin being forgiven at all.

Greg further contrasted the prostitute’s posture before Christ to that of the Pharisees by explaining the circumstances that may drive a woman of this time to prostitution. To personalize the story, he named the woman Mary, who surely did not grow up intending to sell their body for money. It is a survival technique that occurs only to someone in dire situations. Clearly she was not married and perhaps she had children to support. It is likely that she was abused or raped and became unfit as a wife for an upstanding man of this time and culture. Regardless, she was successful enough in her profession to acquire an alabaster jar of ointment typically worth a year’s wages. At some point she met Jesus (perhaps she was the adulterous woman whom Jesus saved from stoning). Nevertheless, the encounter moved Mary so intensely that she was willing to go where she was unwelcome, sure to be judged, but in danger of losing her life since the Pharisees would be within their rights to stone her! Not only does she barge in under these circumstances, but she offers the sort of hospitality that should have been extended to Jesus by the host. Washing Jesus’ feet, kissing them, and anointing them with ointment were neglected because of the arrogance and security that the Pharisees felt entitled to because of their perceived superiority over Jesus. After all, Jesus kept company with the lowest classes of people…people just like Mary.

Greg made three points about this story:

1. We must know that, just like the prostitute, we need to be forgiven much.

2. Once we know that we need forgiveness, it is equally important for us to know that in Christ, we do in fact possess this forgiveness. It is finished, as Jesus’ last words indicate.

3. When the first two are true, our natural response is to pour ourselves out to God in gratitude!

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Topics: Forgiveness, Gratitude, Sin

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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 7:33-50

    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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