Desperate for Grace
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “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. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Around this time of year, Advent, I begin to feel the pressure. You’re probably quite familiar with it – there are presents to get, cards to write, pictures to take, things to sign, places to be, plays to watch, concerts at school… the list could be nearly endless. All of this bustle is supposed to be filled with joy and excitement. And yet, no matter how many signs we hang and parties we throw, I still feel as if there is something behind it all that I want to find.
I first encountered a liturgical Christmas when I moved to Denver in my high school years, and I discovered that there could be calm, pacing and tempered timing in the midst of the confusion. It was this that I was looking for – a measured and paced devotion. An opportunity to draw close to Christ, to breathe deep and to seek His peace.
Whenever I read about the three magi encountering the newborn Christ, I was accosted by the fact that they ‘fell down and worshipped’. I long in the midst of this season to have the time to ‘fall down and worship’ the King of Kings. But how can one obtain such a window in the midst of the flurries of social activity with which we have blanketed the ground of our lives? What obstacles stand in the way of our being able to come and adore the Newborn King?
That may seem like a long and circuitous route to get to my point, but this is why I drew our attention to Luke 7:36-50. It’s about someone who faced a fair number of obstacles to being able to fall down and worship the Christ. I had a Greek professor (Dr. Gordon, ironically enough) who said that John the Evangelist was the “king of understatement”. However, I think at times that Luke must be the prince.
“When she learned that he was reclining at the table of Simon the Pharisee…”
How did she learn of this? How did she hear? But supposing that she heard, how then does she come to the conclusion that what she needs to do is to go there? She must want something. But she couldn’t have wanted what was sure to await her arrival. She is a well-known woman “of sin” – likely a prostitute. How could she possibly have thought that to enter that house would involve anything other than shame with a capitol ‘S’? Condemnation. Accusation. Public outcry?
And yet she goes. She goes through the city, through the Red Quarter, to get to wherever Simon the Pharisee lived – clearly he was of such a reputation that everyone knew where his house was, because to it she went. Did she rush in? Did she breeze past the doorman and tear into the dining room with his protests following her? Or did she beg and plead, or just sneak past when he wasn’t looking? We don’t know. What we do know, though, should astonish us.
First of all, she went. Instead of thinking about it for a week, or instead of saying soberly to herself that she would go tomorrow, she saw the window of opportunity and she took it.
Second, she broke social convention. She entered the dining hall where the men were eating, when she should have waited outside. She interrupted male social conversation for the sake of obtaining her desire.
Third, she let down her hair. This is a sign of personal and intimate affection that in the Near East was assumed to be (and in many places continues to be) a guarded experience between a husband and wife. She lets down her hair and proceeds to wipe her tears off of Jesus feet.
Fourth, she is not perturbed by the discussion that ensues about her conduct. Her only aim is to be with Jesus, to adore Jesus, and to receive grace. She has no concern for the thoughts of others, for what they think of her character, her conduct, her choices, nothing. She only cares for Jesus.
To the world’s eyes: this woman was rude, impetuous, socially indiscreet and selfishly concerned with one objective and one alone – and yet Christ praises her. Why does Jesus praise her? Because her love was well and appropriately placed. Jesus doesn’t pull back from this exceptional and emotional display of affection and worship. Rather, he both receives and commends it. He doesn’t stop her, he allows her to continue.
The thrust of my thoughts for today center around these conclusions and also upon the short two line parable that Jesus offers the Pharisee Simon: two debtors, equally in need of forgiveness and grace despite their apparently different monetary status. Neither could pay, and so both are equally far from their master’s favor.
In this season, we cannot let obstacles get in our path of obtaining an audience with the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not allow social pressures to overcome our desire for intimacy and affection with Christ. We should search our hearts and recognize our need for grace (that whether we owe fifty or five hundred denarii, we still owe) and then allow a desperation grow that overcomes social convention, that overcomes emotional displays, that overcomes everything that stands between us and falling at the feet of the Savior.