Grace for a Pharisee

Posted: June 17, 2013 by boydmonster in Iain's Thoughts, The Christian Life
Tags: , ,

Yesterday our Bishop, Mark Lawrence, preached on Luke 7:36-8:3.  This section tells the story of a promiscuous woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and annointed them with oil.  Mark handled the text wonderfully showing the tender love of Jesus for the most marginalized of sinners.  When the Pharisee who’s house Jesus is in complains that Jesus is allowing Himself to be associated with such a woman, Jesus informs him that “He who has been forgiven much loves much.  He who has been forgiven little loves little.”  As he was preaching, something else stood out to me about this text.  

Luke makes a point of recording in Jesus’ reply the Pharisee’s name.  When the Pharisee is considering how scandalous it is for Jesus to be involved with this woman, Jesus says “Simon, I have something to say to you.”  Why give this detail?  Jesus confronts scores of Pharisees who disapprove of His friendliness towards ‘sinners.’   Why record this one?  One simple answer is that that is what Jesus said.  I think Luke intends more than this though.  

Emerging scholarship has begun to recognize the use of a sort of name dropping as a means of what we would today consider academic citation.  So, when Luke is telling a story, he tells you one of the key players as a way of saying “This is my primary source.  If you want to verify my story, go talk to him.”  What if this is the case in this passage? What if Luke is recording Simon the Pharisee’s name because Simon was his source for this particular story?  I think it changes the thrust of the story significantly.  

Imagine Luke the historian interviewing Simon the Pharisee.  Imagine Simon telling him this story.  I cannot see Simon telling him the story grimacing around the name of Jesus.  I cannot see him telling Luke about this day inserting commentary on how inappropriate it was for Jesus to be with this woman.  In other words, I think it is highly likely that this conversation did something to Simon or else he would not have been telling so many people about it that it attracted the attention of someone wanting to verify the details about Jesus’ life.  

If I had to guess, I would think that Simon would tell the story something like this: “I had heard of Jesus and I had my suspicions.  I invited him into my home to see if He was as dangerous a heretic as He was made out to be.  He came to my door and I didn’t offer him water to cleanse his feet, oil to refresh himself with, or even the courtesy of greeting him with a kiss.  I wanted to vet him out first before I offered him any hospitality.  Then this woman comes in.  She was obviously a lady of the night.  She begin to weep over his feet, annointed them with oil, and dried them with her hair.  I thought ‘How scandalous!  Some prophet.  He can’t even identify a prostitute when he sees one.’  It was as if Jesus saw into my soul.  Immediately he explained to me that those who are forgiven much love much.  I saw how wrong I had been not only about this woman, but about myself.  Jesus knew this woman’s sin better than I did, and yet he forgave her.  Her heart was bursting with gratitude, but despite all my theological and moral precision, my heart was as cold as a cadaver!  He who has been forgiven much loves much?  How true.  I slighted Jesus.  I despised those He loved.  I was too self-righteous to ever seen my need for grace.  He loved me and forgave me despite all this.  You can’t imagine how much I love Jesus now!”  

This is the great beauty of the grace of God revealed in Jesus.  No one, not the most profligate sinner or the most precise Pharisee is too far from God’s grace.  We often speak of God’s grace as if it’s only for the prodigal.  But God is as pleased to forgive a stony hearted religious zealot as He is to welcome the most broken libertine.  When I came to Christ in college, there was no denying that I needed grace.  My life was as worldly as anyone’s.  However, I continue to need that grace as much today as ever I did, if not more.  I have been the Pharisee and the Sinner.  Thank God His grace extends to both!

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Comments
  1. Stephen says:

    Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
    That saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost but now am found,
    Was blind, but now I see!

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