In the text of Luke 7:36-48, we read of the account where Jesus was invited by Simon the Pharisee for a meal. During the meal, a woman came to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair. Simon looked at the woman with disdain, for she was a well-known sinner, and wondered why Jesus allowed her to touch Him. Are there times when we looked down on others because of their appearance and background? Often, we make the same judgments as Simon did. However, Jesus would go on to teach Simon some important lessons from this encounter.
Simon, as with the other Pharisees, often looked down upon those whom they labelled as sinners of society, and avoided them (cf. Luke 15:2; Matthew 9:11). However, Jesus would not avoid them, but even ate together with them. Of course, Jesus was not indulging in sin together with them, but He explains His reason: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick… I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). Jesus wanted to heal them of their sinful ways, and He could not do so if He avoided them! Jesus taught Simon that he should not have contempt upon “sinners,” but should rather seek to save them.
Do we look down on those who appear to be staunch sinners? Certainly, we do not want to enjoy company with bad influence (1 Corinthians 15:33). However, neither do we want to deprive sinners of the chance to be saved. We need to remember that we ourselves had been sinners before, but we were granted the opportunity to be saved (cf. Romans 3:23). Jesus died to give all men an opportunity to be saved; we ought therefore to give others a second chance also to be saved (Romans 5:8).
Jesus goes on to give Simon a parable about two debtors. One debtor owed a creditor 500 pence and the other owed 50 pence ($100 vs $10). Both were forgiven of their debts. Which debtor would love the creditor more? Simon answered: the one who owed more. It is true that the larger favour we received, the more we would be grateful! Jesus turned the parable over to Simon: Simon, who supposedly sinned less than the woman, showed that he was less grateful to Jesus. While the woman washed Jesus’ feet, kissed His feet, and anointed His feet with ointment, Simon did none of those.
Are we grateful to Jesus? We ought to be, because Jesus had forgiven us of a debt as well: a debt of sin! (Romans 6:23). It was a debt that we could never pay through our own efforts, but only with the ultimate sacrifice, which Jesus paid with His own body (Romans 5:8). Therefore, as the apostle John aptly put it, “we love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). If we are grateful to God, we must not be as Simon who did nothing for Jesus. Rather, we must show it through action and humble obedience to His authority (Colossians 3:17).
The woman displayed her love for Jesus in three actions. Firstly, she used her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus. Imagine how dirty the feet of Jesus would be after walking along those dusty roads in His sandals. The woman then uses her own hair to clean Jesus’ dirty feet! I wonder how much shampoo she needed to use afterwards. However, this is a reminder that love demands sacrifice. Jesus Himself said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To love Jesus means to put His will over our own. What are we willing to sacrifice for Jesus?
The woman also kissed the feet of Jesus. What a degrading action! We wouldn’t want to touch our lips onto someone’s dirty feet. Furthermore, to kiss someone’s feet involves bending down in a prostrate manner, as a servant would before his master. This is a display of humility. Loving Jesus demands humble service. Jesus exhorts: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet” (John 13:14). Christians who love Jesus are ready to serve one another with an attitude of love and humility (Galatians 5:13). Are you ready to humble yourself to serve your brethren?
Lastly, the woman bought ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet. Such ointment was usually meant for anointing the head, and provides fragrance to the hair. However, the woman used it on Jesus’ feet. Would you use your facial cream for the rest of your body, and your feet? What a waste! But the woman did not think so. Because she loved Jesus, to her, it was worth every cent. We are reminded of the widow who put in two mites into the temple treasury: she put in all her living! (Luke 21:2-4). What cost are we willing to pay for our Lord Jesus?
Comparing Simon and the woman: who is the sinner and who is the saint? We learn from Jesus that it is not about our appearance, or even our historical background. Hence, we have no right to look upon others with contempt. Rather, it is about what we do in the present: what are we doing to show our gratitude and love towards our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? That will determine if we are the sinner or the saint.