“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
We saw last month that the good news of the Gospel is both reasonable and desirable. During this cultural moment, it is important that we share Christ through both reason and romance, engaging both heads and hearts with the Truth and Beauty of Jesus. Last month we saw the Searching Mercy of Jesus displayed in His encounter with the woman at the well; this month we will look at the Scandalous Mercy of Jesus.
The woman with the alabaster jar
“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, 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. 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’” (Luke 7:37-39).
Keep in mind that religious men in those days would thank God that they had not been born a woman. Add to that the fact that this woman was known to be sinful, and you can be sure that the religious leaders considered her “damaged goods” – unredeemable and unwelcome. If these men saw her approaching on the street, they would cross to the other side to avoid even being near her, lest the “uncleanness” of her sinful condition rub off on them.
We aren’t told how the woman knew about Jesus. Perhaps she heard that He was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). Perhaps she had joined one of the large crowds that gathered to hear Jesus teach about the love and mercy of God. We do know that this woman was regarded as a sinner by everyone in the town. Her sin deserved the judgment of God, yet God in the flesh withheld judgment and dispensed His first measure of mercy just by letting her touch Him. The “religious respectable” seated at the table considered her unclean, and by touching Jesus she made Him unclean in their eyes as well. Jesus knew all this, but He cared about the condition of her heart, not the commendation of men.
There is still more amazing grace displayed in this passage. In the ancient world, women were required to wear their hair up in public. A prostitute, however, would let her hair down when she was preparing to go to work. So you can imagine the horror and disgust that the Pharisee and his guests felt when they saw this woman let down her hair, with all the overtones that act carried with it, and use her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. The scandalous mercy of our Savior knows no bounds!
The Lord’s response
But Jesus was just getting started: “Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you. . . . Two men owed money to a certain money lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him move?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’
“‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. 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. 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 her, ‘Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you, go in peace’” (Luke 7:40-48, 50).
You see our Lord’s grace and mercy in the way He turned toward the sinful woman while speaking to Simon. Jesus pinpointed self-righteous Simon’s social errors in not washing His feet, anointing His head with oil, and greeting Him with a holy kiss. Then, magnifying His scandalous mercy, Jesus declared the woman forgiven of her sins, mercifully withholding the judgment her sins deserved. Because she recognized how great her sin debt to God actually was, she is the one in the story who loved much.
Our story of mercy
Can the same be said about you and me? Only when we understand how bad we truly are will we begin to see just how good the good news of the Gospel truly is. This story of the sinful woman is a wonderful way to share the Gospel in today’s post-Christian culture; it speaks volumes to the hearts of unbelievers. Jesus welcomed the unwelcomed woman, provided a thought-provoking, pride-pricking parable, and then elevated the sincerely sinful woman above the superficially religious Pharisee. This is the grace of the Gospel: It is not about a religion; it is about a right relationship with Jesus. The woman was graciously brought into this right relationship; she left Simon’s home saved, possessing the peace that passes all understanding.
This beautiful story is your story and mine, and that of everyone who puts their trust in the scandalous mercy of Jesus. There is no person or place beyond the reach of our Lord. When we give the reason for the hope that we have with genuine love in our hearts, the Gospel becomes not only reasonable and rational; it becomes desirable.
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.