Sunday, June 19, 2016

THE PHARISEE AND THE PROSTITUTE

There are many New Testament stories about the Pharisees. The reason for this is because this group of religious leaders were almost united in their opposition to Jesus. Not absolutely every Pharisee was, mind you. There were a few very notable exceptions to this. However, as a whole, the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus. They felt threatened because they were the highly respected religious leaders of the day and were accustomed to great demonstrations of respect given to them by the people. But Jesus did not do this. Jesus held little respect for them. He considered their rigorous rules they taught that the people should follow as man-made laws, and not things that God required.

Besides this, the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus because he had great appeal among the common people of the day – even among the non-religious people and perhaps even especially among the non-religious. That is because Jesus offered them a way out of their bondage to their lifestyle and their sin. The Pharisees did not. They offered only condemnation to the sinners. No effort of these people could be good enough.

Jesus instead offered grace to all who really did want to change. He taught that true deliverance from sin cannot come from our own efforts, but only through the grace given by God. He offered them salvation from their sinful lives.

It is because of these things that the Pharisees were constantly trying to entrap Jesus in some mistake or some false teaching. They did everything that they could to discredit him. This seems to be much of the motivation for a dinner invitation one evening. A Pharisee by the name of Simon asked Jesus to his home for dinner. (click READ MORE below to continue)
 

The Entrapment Dinner

To help us to understand the atmosphere at the dinner, we need to know that this was not a private dinner between two men. It was not done in secret. I mentioned earlier that there were some notable exceptions to the reactions of the Pharisees to the teachings of Jesus. The Pharisee Nicodemus was one of these. He truly wanted to learn from Jesus and not to entrap him, so Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night, when no one else would be around. He had to meet with Jesus in a rather secrete manner.

This affair at the house of the Pharisee Simon was not like that. It was a dinner with several invitees. If Simon meant to catch Jesus in some kind of falsehood, which seems to have been his motivation, he wanted there to be witnesses.

I have also always heard that at these types of affairs, it also was not unusual for people who were not even invited for the meal to stop by to listen to the conversation. Or if there was a person of local significance, such as was Jesus in this case, people would come just so that they could say that they saw him. I myself have been at those types of meals at someone’s house, although not in this country. The neighbor people just came over while we were eating and simply sat around the edge of the room, listening to and even joining in the conversation.

At the meal where Jesus was, a certain woman of the city came, not as an invited guest – at least not that we know of. She was a woman whom the Bible calls a sinner or an immoral person. In all actuality, she was probably a prostitute, but the only information that we actually have about this woman is only from this short encounter at the meal. We are not even told her name. However, from her actions at the meal, if she had indeed been a prostitute, she apparently was a one who had repented of her past life or at least was seeking forgiveness. 

The Woman of John 8

We have snatches of stories of the lives of various people whom Jesus helped in his ministry, and there is no way to tell if this woman was any of those that we read about whom Jesus had ministered before this. But do you remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? This was another instance when the Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus.

They brought this woman to Jesus and told him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery…now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. What do you say?”

This is the same story where Jesus was writing with his finger in the ground and then said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” You remember how one by one, the men all turned and left. They knew that they were also sinners and not worthy to judge another.

After all had left, Jesus told the woman, “I do not condemn you. You may go, but from now on, sin no more.”
 
The Woman at Simon’s House

In all actuality, this woman at Simon’s house we probably not that same woman, but this is an example of how Jesus was ready to forgive any who would want to change their ways. This woman at Simon’s house was no doubt a woman who had similarly been forgiven by Jesus or perhaps she came seeking forgiveness.

Jesus was reclining at the table, as they did in those days. It seems a bit uncomfortable to me to eat in this way, but such was the custom. Vivian and I, at our kitchen table, have two high backed rocking chairs. This is my preference. But they did not have rocking chairs in those days, so they ate in their own manner, reclined on low benches with the feet angling away from the table.

The woman approached Jesus with an alabaster vial of perfume. She was weeping. She knelt down at the feet of Jesus, her tears falling on his feet. Such was the intensity of her crying that the feet of Jesus became wet. She began wiping his feet with the hair of her head, kissing his feet and anointing them with the perfume that she had brought with her.

To Simon the Pharisee, this incident looked like something that might turn into an occasion to make some accusations against Jesus. He thought to himself, “If this man was truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this was at his feet and even touching him. She is a sinner.” 

The Greater Debtor

However, before Simon could put his thoughts into words, Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Jesus then proceeded to tell the Pharisee a story – a parable actually. He told the story of a moneylender who had two debtors. One of these owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of these men was able to pay their debts, so the moneylender, contrary to what one would think that a moneylender would do, graciously forgave them both.

When Jesus finished the story, he asked Simon, “Which of these two men will love him more, the one who owed five hundred denarii, or the one who owed fifty.”

“I suppose the one whom he forgave more,” the Pharisee answered. 

Eastern Hospitality

After the story, it was Jesus instead of Simon who then drew attention to the woman. After he had asked Simon about the lesson of the story, Jesus said to him, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little,” (Luke 7:44-47 NAS).

Jesus here is drawing reference from several local customs, all of which his host Simon had neglected. He did not greet Jesus with a kiss, as was an important sign of welcome and respect, as it still is in many areas of the world.

As a host, Simon provided no one to wash the feet of Jesus. This was important in those days of hot, dusty roads and of sandaled and sweaty feet. Nothing feels quite so relieving as having all that dust of the road washed by cool water. But not only did Simon fail to have a servant wash the feet of Jesus, but even did not provide water so that Jesus could wash his own feet.

Another custom in this hot and dry climate is the anointing of a cooling oil on a traveler’s head. It is like a refreshing salve on a dry and cracked face. Jesus’ host at the meal also failed to offer any oil for Jesus’ head.

Simon’s negligence in being a gracious host was directly countered by the woman’s show of love for Jesus. I am certain that she had not consciously noticed that Simon had failed in these regards and was merely fulfilling the customs of the day. Her actions went beyond custom. They arose from love.

Outward Displays of Righteousness

The Pharisees knew how to act righteous. They had many laws that they had added to those things that God commanded, laws that would show outwardly, but did not necessarily affect the heart. This was one of the complaints that Jesus had against the Pharisees.

He told them at one time:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NAS) 

Like Jesus, we also look down on hypocritical actions of people. We despise someone who puts up a self-righteous appearance in their public life, but in their private life is quite a different person. We loathe hypocritical actions – that is, we loathe it in other people. When it comes to our own hypocrisy, we are not quite so harsh. When it comes to our own duplicity, we tend to make some excuse or justification for what we do. We rationalize our own private hypocrisy. We tend to be more forgiving of our own actions. 

Who Will Love More?

But for those who want to change, this story of the Pharisee and the Prostitute is a help to us. For the Pharisee, his appearance was the important thing. He had built for himself a façade of self-respectability. No doubt other people even told him what a good person he was, for this was what the Pharisees strove for (Matthew 6:5, John 12:43).

So successful had the Pharisee Simon been at constructing his own façade, he even believed it of himself. Look at his life! Look how righteously he lives! The outside of his cup and his bowl sparkles clean! He has a new coat of clean whitewash on the outside of his tomb! And after all, that is all that people see. They do not look inside the tomb. They don’t notice what is inside the cup or bowl. He saw himself as quite a righteous person, and if Jesus was offering forgiveness of sins, well…he could not think of many sins that were in his life that needed forgiveness. He had everything pretty well covered himself.

The woman on the other hand, knew that she had no hope in herself. I am sure that there were times when she wanted to change, and perhaps even attempted to change, but she could not. She saw what was inside of herself, and she did not like what she saw. And another problem for the woman was that she had been pegged by society. Mothers covered their children’s eyes when this woman appeared on the street. They did not want their children to see her. She was a sinner. A harlot. A prostitute. The woman was constantly reminded of this by other people.

If Jesus was offering forgiveness of sins, she had so many in her life that she could not count.

“Which of these two men will love him more, the one who owed five hundred denarii, or the one who owed fifty,” Jesus asked Simon.

“I suppose the one whom he forgave more,” the Pharisee answered. 

A Pharisee or a Prostitute?

It is a question that we must ask ourselves. The Pharisee had just as many rotting bones inside of him as did the prostitute, it was just that he had done a better job of covering them up. He had put a new coat of whitewash on the outside. From what anyone could see – all looked good.  But the woman knew what was inside of herself, and she had other people that also kept reminding her of what she was. She needed forgiveness and she needed it bad!

And what of us? What is our motivation for doing the things we do as we Christians? The way that our culture is today is not as in the days of the Pharisees when people generally respect you for being religious. Today it sometimes works the opposite way. But we still tend to put up fronts. We still do what we can to build façades of respectability. If we get good enough at this, we even begin to believe this of ourselves.

“I am a pretty good person! I do not owe God that much. If he forgives me, great. But if not, there is not that much that is wrong.”

It is our depth of love for God that reflects what our attitude is. We may have him over for dinner sometimes, but we do not welcome him warmly. He feels like an outsider in our lives.

Do we even take time to realize what we owe him? If we take a good look inside of ourselves, despite the respectability of our outside lives, we know what is in there. We see the rottenness that exists in our souls. There is a debt that we have that we could never repay – not even in eternity. And the debt keeps increasing, it keeps on compounding and intensifying.

If we are not at the feet of Jesus in worship, we should be. We owe him everything.

 

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