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Jesus' Feet Anointed in the House of a Pharisee.
C Luke VII. 36–50.
c 36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. [We learn from verse 40 that the Pharisee's name was Simon. Because the feast at Bethany was given in the house of Simon the leper, and because Jesus was anointed there also, some have been led to think that Luke is here describing this supper. See Matt. xxvi. 6–13; Mark xiv. 3–9; John xii. 1–8. But Simon the leper was not Simon the Pharisee. The name Simon was one of the most common among the Jewish people. It was the Greek form of the Hebrew Simeon. The New Testament mentions nine and Josephus twenty Simons, and there must have been thousands of them in Palestine at that time. The anointing at Bethany was therefore a different occasion from this.] And he entered into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. [Literally, reclined at meat. The old Jewish method of eating was to sit cross-legged on the floor or on a divan, but the Persians, Greeks and Romans reclined on couches, and the Jews, after the exile, borrowed this custom. We are not told in plain terms why the Pharisee invited Jesus to eat with him. The envy and cunning which characterized his sect leads us to be, perhaps, unduly suspicious that his motives were evil. The narrative, however, shows that his motives were somewhat akin to those of Nicodemus. He wished to investigate the character and claims of Jesus, and was influenced more by curiosity than by hostility—for 291all Pharisees were not equally bitter (John vii. 45–52). But he desired to avoid in any way compromising himself, so he invited Jesus to his house, but carefully omitted all the ordinary courtesies and attentions which would have been paid to an honored guest. Jesus accepted the invitation, for it was his custom to dine both with Pharisees and publicans, that he might reach all classes.] 37 And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment. [Because the definite article “the” is used before the word “city,” Meyer says it was Capernaum, and because Nain is the last city mentioned, Wiesler says it was Nain, but it is not certain what city it was. Older commentators say it was Magdala, because they hold the unwarranted medieval tradition that the sinner was Mary Magdalene, i. e., Mary of Magdala. No trustworthy source has ever been found for this tradition, and there are two good reasons for saying that this was not Mary Magdalene: 1. She is introduced soon after (Luke viii. 2) as a new character and also as a woman of wealth and consequence. See also Matt. xxvii. 55. 2. Jesus had delivered her from the possession of seven demons. But there is no connection between sin and demon-possession. The former implies a disregard for the accepted rules of religious conduct, while the latter implies no sinfulness at all. This affliction was never spoken of as a reproach, but only as a misfortune. The cruse which she brought with her was called “an alabaster.” Orientals are very fond of ointments and use them upon the face and hair with profusion. They were scented with sweet-smelling vegetable essence, especially that extracted from the myrtle. Originally the small vases, jars or broad-mouthed bottles, in which the ointment was stored, were carved from alabaster, a variety of gypsum, white, semi-transparent and costly. Afterwards other material was used, but the name “alabaster” was still applied to such cruses. That used by Mary of Bethany was probably the highest grade ointment in the highest priced cruse (John xii. 3). The context here 292leaves us free to suppose that both the cruse and the unguent were of a cheaper kind], 38 and standing behind 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. [To see this scene we must picture Jesus stretched upon the couch and reclining on his left elbow. The woman stood at the foot of the couch behind his feet. His feet were bare; for every guest on entering left his sandals outside the door. The woman, feeling strongly the contrast between the sinlessness of Jesus and her own stained life, could not control her emotions. “The tears,” says Brom, “poured down in a flood upon his naked feet, as she bent down to kiss them; and deeming them rather fouled than washed by this, she hastened to wipe them off with the only towel she had, the long tresses of her own hair. She thus placed her glory at his feet (I. Cor. xi. 15), after which she put the ointment upon them.”] 39 Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. [Public opinion said that Jesus was a prophet (Luke vii. 16), and Simon, from the Pharisee's standpoint, feared that it might be so; and therefore no doubt felt great satisfaction in obtaining this evidence which he accepted as disproving the claims of Jesus. He judged that if Jesus had been a prophet he would have both known and repelled this woman. He would have known her because discerning of spirits was part of the prophetic office—especially the Messianic office ( Isa. xi. 2–4; I. Kings xiv. 6; II. Kings i. 1–3; v. 26). Comp. John ii. 25. He would have repelled her because, according to the Pharisaic tradition, her very touch would have rendered him unclean. The Pharisees, according to later Jewish writings, forbade women to stand nearer to them than four cubits, despite the warning of God (Isa. lxv. 5). Thus reasoning, Simon concluded that Jesus had neither the knowledge nor the holiness which are essential to a prophet. His narrow mind did not 293 grasp the truth that it was as wonderful condescension for Christ to sit at his board as it was to permit this sinner to touch him.] 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Teacher, say on. [Jesus heard Simon's thoughts and answered them. Simon called Jesus “Teacher,” little thinking how fully Jesus was about to vindicate the justice of the title, thus given him in compliment.] 41 A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. [The denarius or shilling was a silver coin issued by Rome which contained nearly seventeen cents' worth of that precious metal. The two debts, therefore, represented respectively about seventy-five dollars, and seven dollars and fifty cents. But at that time a denarius was a day's wages for a laboring man (Matt. xx. 2, 4, 12, 13), so that the debt is properly translated into our language as if one owed five hundred and the other fifty days of labor.] 42 When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. [In this brief parable God represents the lender, and the woman the big and Simon the little debtor. Simon was (in his own estimation) ten times better off than the woman; yet they were each in an equally hopeless case—having nothing with which to pay; and each in an equally favored case—being offered God's free forgiveness. Forgiveness is expressed in the past tense in the parable, but merely as part of the drapery and not for the purpose of declaring Simon's forgiveness. It indicates no more than that Jesus was equally willing to forgive both. But the Pharisee did not seek his forgiveness, and the absence of all love in him proved that he did not have it.] Which of them therefore will love him most? [It was Jesus' custom to thus often draw his verdicts from the very lips of the parties concerned—Luke x. 36, 37; Matt. xxi. 40, 41.] 43 Simon answered and said, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most. [The “suppose” of Simon betrays a touch of supercilious irony, showing that the Pharisee thought the question very trivial. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. [Simon's words were more 294than an answer. They were a judgment as well. Like Nathan with David (II. Sam. xii. 1–7), Jesus had concealed Simon's conduct under the vestments of a parable, and had thus led him to unwittingly pronounce sentence against himself. Simon, the little debtor, was a debtor still; having no acts of gratitude to plead in evidence of his acquittal. From this point the words of Jesus take up the conduct of Simon which we should here picture to ourselves. “We must imagine the guests arriving; Simon receiving them with all courtesy, and embracing each in turn; slaves ready to was the dust of the road from their sandaled feet, and to pour sweet olive oil over their heads to soften the parched skin. See Gen. xviii. 4; xix. 2; xxiv. 32; Ruth iii. 3; I. Sam. xxv. 41; Ps. xxiii. 5; cxli. 5; Eccl. ix. 8; Dan. x. 3; Amos vi. 6; Matt. vi. 17. But there is one of the guests not thus treated. He is but a poor man, invited as an act of condescending patronage. No kiss is offered him; no slave waits upon him; of course a mechanic can not need the luxuries others are accustomed to!”] 44 And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? [Simon is to look upon the woman as one whose actions stood in contrast to his own.] I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. [Jesus here draws the first contrast. In the East, where the feet without stockings are placed in sandals instead of shoes, water becomes essential to one who would enter a house. The guest should be afforded an opportunity to wash the dust from his feet, not only for comfort's sake, but also that he might not be humiliated by soiling the carpets on which he walked, and the cushions on which he reclined. The trifling courtesy Simon had omitted; but the woman had amply supplied his omission, bathing the Lord's feet in what Bengel well calls “the most priceless of waters.”] 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. [We have here the second contrast. A kiss was the ordinary salutation of respect in the East. Sometimes the hand was 295kissed, and sometimes the cheek (II. Sam. xv. 5; xix. 39; Matt. xxvi. 49; Acts xx. 37; Rom. xvi. 16). We may note incidentally that we have no record of a kiss upon the cheek of Jesus save that given by Judas. The woman had graced the feet of Jesus with those honors which Simon had withheld from his cheek.] 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. [Anointing was a mark of honor which was usually bestowed upon distinguished guests (Amos vi. 6; Ps. xxiii. 5; cxli. 5). To anoint the feet was regarded as extreme luxury (Pliny H.N. xiii. 4). In this third case Jesus makes a double comparison. To anoint the feet was more honored than to anoint the head, and the ointment was a more valuable and worthy offering than the mere oil which ordinary courtesy would have proffered.] 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. [Her love was the result, and not the cause, of her forgiveness. Our sins are not forgiven because we love God, but we love God because they are forgiven (I. John iv. 19). Such is the inference of the parable, and such the teaching of the entire New Testament. We search the story in vain for any token of love on the part of Simon.] 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that even forgiveth sins? [They were naturally surprised at this marvelous assumption of authority, but in the light of what had just been said they did not dare to express themselves. Ignorance of Christ's person and office caused them to thus question him. It is easy to stumble in the dark. We are not told that Simon joined in asking this question.] 50 And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. [Jesus did not rebuke his questioners, because the process of forgiveness was something which could not be demonstrated to their comprehension, and hence their error could not be made clear. Jesus attributed her forgiveness to her faith. “Peace” was the Hebrew and “grace” 296was the Greek salutation. It is here used as a farewell, and means “Go in the abiding enjoyment of peace.” Several valuable lessons are taught by this incident. 1. That the sense of guiltiness may differ in degree, but nevertheless the absolute inability of man to atone for sin is common to all. 2. As sin is against Christ, to Christ belongs the right and power to forgive it. 3. That conventional respectability, having no such flagrant and open sins as are condemned by the public, is not conscious of its awful need. 4. That those who have wandered far enough to have felt the world's censure realize most fully the goodness of God in pardoning them, and hence are moved to greater expressions of gratitude than are given by the self-righteous. But we must not draw the conclusion that sin produces love, or that much sin produces much love, and that therefore much sin is a good thing. The blessing which we seek is not proportioned to the quantity of the sins; but is proportioned to the quantity of sinful sense which we feel. We all have sin enough to destroy our souls, but many of us fail to love God as we should, through an insufficient sense of sinfulness.]
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