WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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A FRESH START
(Faith expressed through love and forgiveness)
Two days before the Passover celebration and the Festival of unleavened bread in Jerusalem, the leading priests, Pharisees, and teachers of religious law were busy looking for an opportunity to secretly capture JESUS and put HIM to death. However, they had all agreed that they would not attempt anything until after the Passover because they feared that, because of JESUS’ popularity among the people, a move on HIS life might cause a riot at that time.
Meanwhile JESUS, ironically, was in Bethany visiting the home of another Pharisee named Simon, who was also a leper. Simon had invited JESUS to his home to have a meal with him and some of his other guests. It was customary that whenever a respected Rabbi was attending a meal in a well-to-do person’s home, which contained an outer courtyard such as Simon’s did, that people would wander into the gathering in order to take in some of the knowledge and wisdom that was being imparted.
Traditionally, when the special guest arrived, there would be a customary three-part ritual that would take place between the host and his guest. First, the host would place his hand on the shoulder of the guest and welcome them with a hug and a kiss. Secondly, the host would have one of his servants to pour cold water on the guest’s feet to clean and comfort them. And then finally, either a pinch of sweet smelling incense was burned, or a drop of rose fragrant oil would be applied to the head of the guest. In the case of JESUS’ visit with Simon, HE did not receive this traditional honor, and JESUS would remind Simon of this later in verses 44-46.
In biblical times, when the Jews ate a meal, they would do so while lying in an inclined position, on low couches, using one of their arms to prop them up, at a very low table. This explains how the so-called, “immoral woman” was able to kneel down behind JESUS near HIS feet as it is described in verse 38a.
At any rate, this certain woman, who had heard that JESUS was going to be present at Simon’s dinner, came prepared to anoint HIM with some fairly expensive perfume that was contained in a beautiful jar. She knelt down behind JESUS, at HIS feet, and began to sob bitterly, and her tears were so plentiful, that, she was able to wash JESUS’s feet with them.
When she began to wipe her tears from JESUS’ feet with her own hair, and then proceeded to kiss HIS feet, while applying the expensive perfume to them, Simon began to protest to himself, thinking “This proves that JESUS is no prophet. If GOD had really sent HIM, HE would know what kind of a woman is touching HIM. She’s a sinner!”
Reading the innermost thoughts of the confused host, JESUS said to him, “I have something to say to you Simon”, and HE began to teach the Pharisee a lesson in “forgiveness”, as HE relates to him, a parable of a man who had loaned money to two different individuals, who weren’t able to repay the debt. One individual owed the man 500 pieces of silver, while the other owed 50 pieces. The kind man decided to forgive both men of their debt to him, tearing up both of their bills.
Then JESUS asked Simon which man do you think was the most appreciative of what the lender did for them, and who showed the man the most love? Simon replied, “Why it is the one whom he forgave the most debt”. “That’s correct”, JESUS said, and HE then turned to the woman and reminded Simon that he had neglected to honor HIM in the traditional way when HE arrived at his home, and yet this woman, by washing JESUS’ feet with her tears of “repent”, and wiping away those tears with her hair, kissing HIS feet, and then anointing them with costly perfume, had not only honored JESUS in the traditional way, but she had also honored HIM in a truly “sacrificial and personal, intimate way.
In the biblical Greek, the word used for “forgive” is “aphemi” and it means “to send away” or “wipe away”, in this case, sin. In verse 47 of this passage JESUS says to Simon, “I tell you, her sins, and they are many, have been forgiven, and so she has shown ME much love. But the person who is forgiven little shows only a little love”. Then JESUS turned to the woman and made a statement that all Pharisees, and teachers of the religious hierarchy of the day, believed only GOD can make, when HE said, “Your sins are forgiven”.
By making such a statement, JESUS was leaving no doubt, and actually declaring to the religious hierarchy in Israel, that HE has the authority of GOD over mankind to, not only, forgive sin, but indeed, over all things here on earth. The men at the table of honor were indignant and began to murmur among themselves, saying, “WHO does HE think HE is, going around forgiving sin?” And JESUS said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”
The reason why JESUS once stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of heaven is because, the rich are those who are least likely to be conscious of any needs in this life. Simon in this story wasn’t conscience of any need for forgiveness, and therefore, felt no love for JESUS. This is evidenced in his failure to treat JESUS as, even ordinary guests were treated in those days by the hosts. He felt no love for JESUS, and so he could receive no forgiveness from JESUS, WHO is GOD.
Simon felt that he was a “good man” before men and GOD, and through his own efforts, he had put himself in a position where all of his needs could be met by either his wealth and/or, his position of power, despite the fact that he was, even then, saddled by an incurable disease called leprosy, which could have been eradicated by JESUS, had he humbled him enough to ask.
The lowly woman in this passage, on the other hand, was fully conscience of her need for forgiveness for her many sins, and she had much love for JESUS, the only ONE WHO could grant that forgiveness to her. Her love for JESUS was manifested through her behavior towards JESUS at the dinner, and her desire to change was greater than her desire to remain the same. She showed an overwhelming love for JESUS, and JESUS granted her forgiveness, because of HIS overwhelming love for her.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander