Luke 7:36-50 chronicles a beautifully subversive and instructive moment in the Master’s ministry. He goes to dine with Simon the Pharisee, but an unnamed woman interrupts the meal to anoint the Master with her tears and costly perfume. It is easy to slip in a couple of places when reading this well-known text. For instance, I hear the Master’s zingers, and replace the Teacher with myself:
Boom! He just handled that Pharisee. That’s how I would do it. Just like the Boss.
In fact, the Teacher is an ally to each of the people in the story, in the unique way that each needs Him to be.
For starters, Luke offers a different picture of the Pharisees than the always-angry caricature. The Teacher shares a meal with the Pharisees in Luke 7, 11, and 14, at least twice by invitation. This is significant because the Teacher honored the Pharisees by accepting invitations from them.
Then Luke has it that the Pharisees warn the Teacher about Herod’s plan to kill him. “Teacher, heads up. Watch out! Someone is going to try to kill you.” That doesn’t sound like an enemy to me.
Next see the unnamed woman in this story. Luke writes that she lived a sinful life. Contrary to popular interpretation, the text says nothing about her sexual ethics. The Greek word Luke chooses is also used elsewhere to describe both men and woman. Peter used it in Luke 5 when in awe of the Master, he fell to his knees saying, “I’m a sinful man!” Then Paul takes up the word in Romans.
The unnamed woman, overcome by emotion strong enough to drive her tears, approaches the Teacher in Simon’s home. It’s here that Simon, trained in the scriptures though he is, misses the point. The person we might expect to miss the point, the unnamed, sinful woman, knows that she must draw near to the Teacher.
The expert on the law is missing it. What does the Teacher do?
With gentleness, not anger, hear the Teacher say, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
Hear Simon’s response, with humility rather than defensiveness, as if Jesus is not against him, but deeply hoping to invite him in. “Tell me, Teacher.”
Stories make an impact because they break down resistance, enter the subconscious quickly, and expose the listener to truth that he may not receive didactically. Stories force the hearer to look at life in new ways, and they outwit reasoned defenses.
In three sentences and a question, the Teacher tells a dazzling parable:
Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?
Simon replied,“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly.”
The Teacher, Simon the Pharisee, the repentant woman, and this parable invite each of us to find our places in the story.
Consider the table set for the meal. Where are you sitting? Which character are you? This time, you’re not the teacher.
An unnamed woman – someone who observes the way of Jesus, recognizes the gaps in her own life, and desires to live into the dignity that she knows at a soul level is hers, but has yet to fully experience.
A Pharisee – someone who works hard, maybe too hard, that has placed himself in a box deep with rules and tradition, that he can’t hear or see truth anymore. His motives seem good, but they alienate those that so dearly want to meet the Teacher.
The Teacher is always the Teacher, for you and for your students. Set yourself in His company. Recognize Him as your ally in the unique way that you need Him to be. Then teach so that your students may see the One who sees them.
 This post is edited from a sermon on this passage given by Nicholas Todd on February 17, 2019 at LEFC.
What’s your perspective?
- With which person do you most identify in this story? Why?
- How does your position as a teacher impact the way you hear this story?
- What invitation do you sense the Teacher is extending to you?