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01.17.2021 Saints and Sinners Luke 7:36-50 Sermon Summary

by on January 19, 2021

We are in week two of our worship series “Dining with Jesus.” We are focusing on some meals with Jesus because they were a huge part of his ministry. If you were to search the New Testament for the purpose of Jesus’ coming, you would find three statements. Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to seek. And Jesus came eating and drinking.

Most people hear this meal story from Luke 7 with a picture already developed in their minds. Here is a young woman, still attractive, but obviously she’s had a hard life. They see by the way she is dressed, how she moves, the fragrance she wears, and by her actions what her particular sin is. 

Oh, how we think we know this woman! Thanks to salacious sermons and bawdy books made into movies we know that she is the soon-to-be-former prostitute Mary Magdalene, who may be the romantic love interest of Jesus. 

Except what Luke wants us to know—what he actually says—is that she is “a sinner.” She is you; she is I. We are the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. At least Jesus hopes we are.

Ask yourself this: If it is so obvious that this “sinner” woman is a prostitute, why does Simon think, “If Jesus were a prophet he would know she is a sinner”? Jesus would have to be prophet to know this only if it wasn’t obvious. Luke just identifies her as a “sinner.” She is well known to Simon and maybe others at the meal. But she is not so obviously a prostitute. (And nowhere is she identified as Mary Magdalene. Sorry, Mr. Brown.)

Before this encounter Jesus does not know this woman. But she knows him. She already believes Jesus is a prophet—someone who knows and speaks the truth about God. She doesn’t need proof. She’s seen it and heard it already.

She heard John the Baptist, about whom his father said would, “give knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” And then she heard Jesus who quoted Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

She listened. She heard. She saw. And she believed. 

Her reputation preceded her into Simon’s house, and so did the reputation of Jesus. Jesus had a reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard.” This is a slur coming from Deuteronomy 21, a passage describing the “stubborn and rebellious son.” Jesus is the “friend of tax-collectors and sinners” remember Levi last week).

Yes, Jesus had a reputation. He was something of a celebrity. And Simon wanted to see for himself. He wanted to observe Jesus. He wanted to judge Jesus. So here are these two people with reputations—one for sinning, one for forgiving—meeting at Simon’s house.

You know, Jesus would eat with anyone. We see him at wedding parties, with tax-collectors, sinners, and yes even prostitutes. But he also ate with Pharisees, the law-abiding religious leaders. Jesus eats with sinners and saints. When Jesus is invited to dine, he comes. He’ll even eat with you.

In reality we discover Jesus actually does know she’s a sinner—not by her dress, not by her reputation, not because he is a prophet, but by her love. She believed Jesus’ message of grace. She believed it about herself. She needed the message and she loved the messenger. So she comes to Simon’s house. 

Jesus’ message is hospitable; it “makes room for others,” as hospitality is often described. Jesus made room for her in the life of God, and now she makes room for Jesus in her life. She shows him hospitality; the hospitality Simon didn’t show.

Simon did not wash Jesus’ feet; she washes them with tears and dries them with her hair. Simon did not kiss Jesus; she can’t stop kissing his feet. Simon did not anoint Jesus; she anoints Jesus’ feet. She does all this because she loves Jesus. She loves Jesus because of his message of forgiveness. She believes this message because she needs it. She needs it because she is a sinner. 

Jesus sees this display of love and because he also believes in his message of forgiveness he knows she is a sinner. So he says what they both already know and already believe: “Your sins are forgiven.” Her sins are forgiven not because she loves; she loves because her sins are forgiven.

Next Jesus looks to Simon. He softens his message for the Pharisee with a parable. Two debtors are forgiven—one a great amount, one a small amount. Which is more grateful? Which will have more love? Simon answers correctly the one who was forgiven the greater debt.

Simon had invited Jesus into his home, was sharing a meal with Jesus, and calls Jesus “teacher.” When Jesus wants to say something directly to Simon, Simon asks him to speak. I wonder, did Simon listen this time? Because he hadn’t been listening before. At least he didn’t believe what Jesus said about forgiveness of sins—not like this woman heard and believed. If he had, he would have shown love. Simon would have shown hospitality.

Simon wasn’t like this sinful woman. He didn’t need much forgiveness so he didn’t show much love. He didn’t need Jesus to make room for him in God’s life. And so he didn’t make room for Jesus in his life.

Finally Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And now the story addresses us. Do we invite Jesus like Simon did, because he’s a celebrity, because we want to see for ourselves, because we want to test him? Or do we show hospitality like the woman, because Jesus made a place for us in God’s life, because we believe Jesus’ message, because we need forgiveness.

Why do we invite Jesus? We better figure it out. Because when we invite Jesus, he brings his own guests with him. He brings with him the poor, blind, and lame. He brings with him the captives, tax-collectors, and prostitutes. He brings with him gluttons, drunkards, and sinners. He brings with him children, undocumented immigrants, and widows. He brings with him the sick, outcast, and imprisoned. He brings with him the oppressed and marginalized.

Jesus shows them hospitality. He makes room for all these in the life of God. Jesus saves them. Jesus heals them. Jesus eats with them. He eats with Simon. He eats with saints and sinners. And he eats with you. 

In Matthew 25 Jesus says when you dine with the least of the members of his family, you dine with him. The question Luke has for us is this: As many of us want to eat with the likes of Simon, can we also dine with Jesus? Simon could not. Because to dine with Jesus means to dine with the woman. 

Jesus dines with you at every meal. How many meals do you dine with Jesus?

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