Imagine that you’re invited to someone’s house—someone you hardly know—and you arrive to find the door open.
As you enter, no one greets you . . . in fact, no one even acknowledges your arrival. No one says hello, no one offers to take your coat, no one offers you anything to drink. How would you feel? What would you do?
In Luke 7, we read about a man who was hosting an intimate dinner party consisting of well-known, well-educated men from the community. It was a special event for the Pharisees, who were among the educated elite and religious leaders during this time.
They knew of Jesus, but had not embraced the new ideas that He had been teaching his followers. Yet for some reason, Jesus had been invited to the dinner that evening, and as a visiting rabbi, He would have been regarded as a guest of honor.
However, the arrival of Jesus at the home of Simon was largely ignored. Even the most basic of rules of hospitality were disregarded toward him. No one greeted him with a kiss (the customary welcome), no water was given for him to wash his feet (the most minimal rule of hospitality), and no oil was put on his head (an optional, but a thoughtful gesture towards guests during this time). This wasn’t an accident, mistake or oversight, but a deliberate slap in the face and everybody knew it.1
Yet, Jesus proceeded to enter and took his place reclining at the table. The tension mounted as everyone waited to see how He would respond.
It was during this dinner party that an unusual interaction began to unfold. To the astonishment of the host and guests, a woman walked in and approached Jesus while He reclined at the table with the other guests.
Even more shocking was this woman’s notorious reputation in the community. Women in ancient Jewish culture didn’t hold an honorable place in society and they were usually not acknowledged or even addressed in public. How much more appalling that this woman would somehow feel compelled to come near Jesus!
Something was different about her. She no longer had a seductive air about her; she no longer hung her head in shame. Instead, she radiated a joy, peace, humility and purity that had not been evident in her life. For after years of feeling dirty and discarded, she had changed.
This woman knew how it felt to be rejected. She knew what it was like to be ridiculed and shunned. Something inside of her demanded to give her all to Jesus, because, after all, He had given so much to her.
Ignoring the cold stares and callous comments, this woman boldly approached Jesus and began to kiss his feet.
Imagine the scene!
Before she realized what was happening, a wave of emotion rushed over her and she began to cry uncontrollably. As her weeping escalated and captivated the attention of everyone in the room, she then proceeded to use her hair to wipe her tears off of his feet!
The feet of Jesus that were unwashed by Simon upon His arrival are now washed by the tears of a sinful woman. Continuing with her display of gratitude, she took her flask of fragrant perfume and lavishly poured it on His feet. This woman withheld nothing, giving her all to Jesus, emptying herself at His feet.
What would motivate this woman to demonstrate such a display of love and affection towards Jesus?
As I reflect on this passage, I can’t help think that the reason this woman did what she did is because Jesus gave her what no one else had given her – forgiveness and acceptance.
When no one accepted her, He welcomed her. When no one loved her, He loved her as His daughter. When she was alone, He was her friend. When everyone judged her, He restored her. When everyone else labeled her a “sinner”, Jesus gave her a new identity as a child of God.
He valued her, not as an object, but as a woman created uniquely by God.
And when everyone else held her past against her, Jesus forgave her and offered her a fresh start.
Jesus explained it this way,
“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven a little shows only a little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:47-48 NLT.
The Greek word for forgiveness used in verse 47 of this passage is aphiemi. It means to send away, to let go free or to pardon. When someone is issued a pardon in a court of law, their past actions are not held against them. They have been given a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning.
The woman in Luke 7 probably had a long list of things she would have done differently. You may, too. The good news is that God doesn’t want you to live in the past, nor does he want you to live under the guilt of the past in the present.
He has something much better for you. God’s forgiveness offers you—a fresh start, a clean slate. You are invited to the table!
And this is just the beginning. God’s forgiveness now enables you to enter into the fullness of life God has created for you to enjoy.
Think about it…
- In your own words, define what forgiveness means to you.
- Can you identify with the woman in Luke 7? How?
- How does knowing God has forgiven you and given you a fresh start change the way you see yourself?
1John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) p. 206-207.