HAVING recorded for us the sad condition of the religious leaders of his day in the verses before this passage, Luke records for us an incident which graphically illustrates on the one hand the condition of Pharisees who behaved like children, and on the other hand, in the woman who gave honour to Jesus, an example of one who had embraced the true wisdom, proving how gloriously right this true wisdom is.
This passage presents to us two different people. They were different in many ways. One was a man, and the other was a woman. The man lived a very religious life and the woman had lived a very worldly and sinful life. The man was a Pharisee with great credit in society in position and wealth, the woman was an outcast in society and despised. However all these differences are not the important ones. The important and crucial difference was in their valuation of Jesus.
We have here something that is of serious importance. What is it that reveals true religion and can be said to be the essence of being a Christian? I believe we have here an illustration of what this is. What marks out the one who is truly a Christian is a person's attitude towards Jesus. The Pharisee showed he had an interest in Jesus. After all he had invited him to his house for a meal, and sought to socialize with Jesus. But this was as far as it went. In fact he had so little regard for Jesus that he had not accorded to him the normal courtesies of the day. He had not provided washing for his feet, nor had he given the usual greeting of a kiss, not did he provide oil for his head. In fact the Pharisee was very ready to judge and criticise Jesus. It seems that he had observed the popularity which Jesus received, and had noted his ministry of healing and teaching; and because Jesus was a force amongst the people he seemed to want to be in on what people were affirming, but not for any real love for Jesus or appreciation of his ministry, but simply with the hope that he might find something of the popularity of Jesus rubbing off on him, and perhaps learn something that would enable him to enhance his image in the religious society he valued and belonged to. His intention seemed simply to embrace anything in Jesus that he deemed of benefit to him, but quite ready to reject anything that he found incompatible with his religious philosophy and wisdom.
The tragedy of this Pharisee was that he had been forgiven little. In fact he knew little, if anything, of any need for forgiveness. He felt no need for forgiveness and felt that any idea that he, a righteous Pharisee, needed forgiveness was insulting. His religion was built on his own wisdom and the traditions of the Jews, and he was quite sure that he was accepted favourably by God, and that God approved of him and his ways. The tragedy of the attitude of this Pharisee was that all his claims concerning God's favour towards him were false and void. Jesus makes this plain in an indirect way by implying that he had been forgiven little. The point here is not that forgiveness can be received in small doses and be of benefit, but rather that the Pharisee had rejected forgiveness by feeling he did not need it, or if he did his need was negligible and therefore of little importance. In this condition, though he had some regard for Jesus and had showed him consideration of a sort, he was totally devoid of the blessing of forgiveness which he needed, and the salvation Jesus came to bestow. The Scripture, the words of Jesus and the epistles, all speak of Jesus as coming into the world to save sinners. The Pharisee in God's view was a sinner, but the Pharisee did not think so, or not in such understanding that his sins brought the wrath of God upon him. He had no conception of the fact that God looks upon the heart, and the condition of the heart, and considers outward behaviour of little worth if the heart was left unchanged.
I have spent a good deal of time on this attitude of the Pharisee because it is a religious condition within the visible church which is all to awfully common. It is not my place, nor am I equipped to evaluate the spiritual condition of any person's heart, or their standing before God. It is not my prerogative to judge. However I can observe the honour given to Jesus in the outward and visible worship of the church. There is no question that Jesus is confessed as God, Lord and Saviour. The creeds of the church are affirmed without question. The liturgy gives honour to Jesus in many ways. All this is true, but the place Jesus has in the life of the church is not determined by these facts. When it comes to the witness and teaching of the church, the preaching of the ministers of the church, something different is exposed. Jesus may be named in sermons, but is he given the honour and importance that fits great love for Jesus? I have said this before, but here it is again – listening to the preaching and sermons in many if not most churches today, my experience is that the subjects of preaching and teaching is on everything except on Jesus. If there was a deep appreciation of what Jesus has done in sacrifice to save us from our sins, and appreciation of the sacrificial love which made our forgiveness possible, then Jesus would be loved and precious, and from full hearts, such as this woman showed, sermons would be be full of Jesus and what he has done for our souls.
The fact is, as Jesus makes clear in this passage, where there is true life and true Christianity, Jesus will be at the centre of worship, preaching and conversation. The fact that this is not true in the majority of churches indicates most surely that the church today is nearer in practice to Simon the Pharisee than the woman. Where there is little love for Jesus it is seen in how little Jesus features in life and teaching.
We must come to this passage again for there is so much still to suck out from it.