Sunday, July 17, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 5

The Sinful Woman's Story – Luke 7:36-50

          In Levi's story, we saw Jesus choose and call a man who would have been, in the eyes of the Jews, the least likely person to be selected for a special relationship with God. In our next story of transformation, we shall meet a woman who was seeking Jesus, responding, perhaps, to some kind of initial encounter with Him but searching for the fullness of His transforming presence and love.
          Who was this woman, then? What was she like before her encounter with God the Son in Jesus Christ? Apparently, this woman was a notorious sinner. Simon the Pharisee and his guests, with whom Jesus was dining when the woman approached Him, were scandalized by her very presence. Her highly unfavorable reputation among the Jews made her an outcast, unable to formally worship God or participate in community life. (25) The text does not tell us what her sins were, but they seem to have been very many, very grave, or probably both, for Jesus compared her to a debtor for whom a great amount had been forgiven (7:41, 47). Some have speculated that she may have been a prostitute who had spent her life moving from crime to crime, but no matter what her sins, she was a broken individual, separated from God and in need of His mercy and healing. (26)
          What happened to this woman that drew her away from her sins and into the love of Jesus Christ? This story is unique among the texts we have chosen, for we meet this sinful woman in the midst of her transformation. Evidently, she had already experienced some kind of encounter with Jesus before she first appeared in chapter 7 of Luke's Gospel. She may have heard Him preach, met with Him, or even felt His heart-changing gaze as Levi had. (27) Whatever happened, it seemingly planted the seeds of faith, hope, love, repentance, and courage in this woman's heart. She could, perhaps, feel herself beginning to be transformed, and she was driven to further action to receive a confirmation of what was going on inside her and to complete the change. She sought Jesus out at Simon's home, and right in the middle of the meal, she stood behind Him, weeping, wetting His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them continually, and anointing them with ointment from an alabaster flask (7:38). In these actions, she revealed the depth of her repentance, humility, and love. Her tears indicated her sorrow for her sins. Her reverence and submission appeared as she meekly washed Jesus' feet and, spurning a towel in her humble poverty, wiped them with her own hair. She kissed Him, displaying her gratitude for the change already beginning deep within her and wordlessly declaring her love, subjection, and supplication. (28) She extravagantly anointed His feet with the same expensive ointment she may have used to prepare herself for her sinful deeds, and in doing so poured out her own vanity and worldly pride. (29) Essentially, she emptied herself at Jesus' feet, longing, perhaps, to hear Him speak reassuring words of love and forgiveness. Her actions were met with disgust on the part of Jesus' host and fellow guests. They were horrified that He would let such a woman touch Him. Jesus, however, welcomed her and taught Simon and the others, through a parable, that the debtor (i.e., sinner) who was forgiven much would love his creditor (i.e., God) more than the one who was forgiven little (7:41-42), and then, after comparing the woman's loving actions to Simon's own lack of courtesy and hospitality, Jesus informed His host that her many sins had been forgiven (7:47). To reinforce this in the woman's mind, to reassure her of His mercy and love, Jesus turned towards her and said again, “Your sins are forgiven....Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:48, 50).
          In these words, the woman's cherished hopes were fulfilled. What was she like after this transforming encounter with the God-Man? The text tells us nothing of this woman's later life, but we can deduce a few conclusions from her story. First, she was forgiven. She was no longer broken or separated from God. Her sins were gone, erased by Jesus' compassionate words. She could put the past behind her and start over, knowing that her relationship with God had been made right. Second, the woman had matured into a full and deep faith. Jesus recognized this when He told her that her faith had saved her. She believed absolutely in the power and love of Jesus Christ. She may not have realized the full extent of Who He was, but she trusted Him to save her, heal her, and set her free, and He did. Third, this woman, maybe for the first time in her life, could be at peace. According to John Gill, that one little word, “peace,” characterized her entire transformed existence; Jesus told her to go in peace “of conscience, and serenity of mind; let nothing disturb thee; not the remembrance of past sins, which are all forgiven, nor the suggestions of Satan, who may, at one time or another, present them to view; nor the troubles and afflictions of this present life; which are all in love; nor the reproaches and censures of men of a "pharisaic" spirit: go home to thy house, and about thy business, and cheerfully perform thy duty both to God and men; and when thou hast done thy generation work, thou shalt enter into eternal peace and joy.” (30) Having stood in the presence of the God-Man, having been transformed by His touch, the once-sinful woman could begin her new life, forgiven, healed, and greatly loved.
          Who is the God Who so touched and changed this sinful woman? What can we learn about Him by meditating on her story? As we think about how Jesus interacted with this woman, we discover His great mercy. He looked deeply into the woman's heart, acknowledged her repentance and love, and forgave her sins. He did not chastise her or even require that she confess her misdeeds. He simply erased her sins gently, kindly, and without hesitation. We also learn that Jesus is willing to accept us just as we are. When the sinful woman approached Him in the Pharisee's house, she was not yet fully converted (although she was well on her way), but that did not seem to matter to Jesus. He did not push her away or scold her for being presumptuous. Instead, He welcomed her, sinful as she still was, and even allowed her intimate contact with His Person. He did not, however, allow her to remain only partially transformed. Even as He received her in her current stage of the conversion process, He carried her beyond that level and into full spiritual restoration and communion with Him. We can be sure that He longs to do the same for us.
          What about us? How can we apply the story of the sinful woman to our circumstances? As always, we will present a few questions to help us discover the transforming presence of God in the text and in our own lives.

1. Do we approach Jesus in love and repentance? How do we show our love and repentance? Are we extravagant with God or only half-attentive?

2. What are we willing to give up for Jesus? Our pride? Our vanity? Are we willing to become poor and humble?

3. Do we have faith and hope that Jesus can and will forgive, save, and heal us? Have we known Jesus' forgiveness and healing? How have we responded?

4. Are we willing to put Jesus above all else? Do we do so?

5. Are we courageous enough to be a cause of “scandal” to others on account of Jesus, or do we care too much about what others think?

6. Do we go in peace after we experience Jesus' forgiveness, or do we continue to worry about our sins and focus on the past?
25. Hahn and Mitch, 35.
26. Barnes.
27. Godet, 358.
28. Clarke.
29. Hahn and Mitch, 35.
30. Gill.

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