‘One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table’ Luke 7:36
In New Testament times, people were traditionally careful about with whom they would eat; sharing a meal with someone was counted as a sign of respect towards that person. For Jesus to have come to Simon’s house for a meal would have been a sign of respect towards Simon. So, we imagine ourselves in Simon’s place: happy with the way that life is and very happy that a very special guest is sitting at the table.
Simon would have unprepared for the scene that was about to unfold, a scene that annoyed Simon’s Pharisee friends and would have caused him a sense of embarrassment. Saint Luke describes it in Chapter 7 Verses 37-38, ‘And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment’.
Have you ever had one of those embarrassing moments when there is nothing you can do to change things and you just hope the moment will pass? This would have been such a moment for Simon. He doesn’t want to make the situation worse by speaking aloud, but he says to himself, in Verse 39, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts, perhaps Jesus had been suspicious all along of Simon’s motives for inviting him to a meal in the first place. When we look at the conversation that follows, we see Jesus speaking very directly and Simon very chastened.
Saint Luke says, in Verse 40, ‘Jesus spoke up’. This is not going to be a private conversation. As Simon has made a public show of having an important guest to his house, so Jesus is going to use the public occasion to speak about forgiveness. Jesus shows courtesy to his host, asking Simon’s consent to him speaking, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you’. Simon perhaps does not anticipate what is to come, ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘Speak’.
Jesus tells a very simple parable in Verse 41-42, ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’
Simon must have felt that the situation was going from bad to worse, he is hesitant in his answer to Jesus. One can almost sense that Simon feels there are hard words to come as, in Verse 43, he answers Jesus’ question, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ Simon’s words are acknowledged by Jesus, ‘You have judged rightly’, and are used as a springboard for comparisons between the behaviour of Simon and the behaviour of the woman.
It is useful to try to imagine the feelings of Simon as he listens to Jesus’ words to him recorded in Verses 44-46, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment’.
It is a harsh and public indictment of Simon’s hospitality. By this time Simon must have been wishing he had never thought of hosting the meal. When we look at the criticisms, it is clear that the meal was not about honouring Jesus, the meal was about Simon’s standing in the community. He invites Jesus because Jesus is someone of great standing whose visit will enhance Simon’s standing among the other invited guests. Simon seems to have been almost indifferent to Jesus once Jesus is present, not even showing him the elementary courtesies.
Simon’s fault is rooted in the fact that he simply has little love for Jesus. In Verse 47, Jesus says to him, ‘Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then, addressing the woman who has shown him great love, Jesus says, in Verse 48, ‘Your sins are forgiven’
Perhaps Simon’s guests were not impressed with Simon’s hospitality either, they do not spring to Simon’s defence, their only comment comes in Verse 49, Saint Luke tells us, ‘But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?’
The story is at once familiar and freshly challenging. When we hear it, with whom do we identify? Perhaps we would hope that we might have shown greater respect and hospitality than did Simon the Pharisee, but would we ever have responded to Jesus in a way comparable to the woman with the jar of ointment?
The woman’s actions meet with Jesus’ approval in Verse 50, ‘Your faith has saved you’, he says to her, ‘go in peace.’
We hope our own faith has saved us, but how deep is that faith? Putting ourselves into the shoes of Simon the Pharisee, and thinking of the thoughts he might have had as he watched the woman, can tell us a lot about our response to God.
Are we ever prepared to throw our whole selves into what we believe, like the woman in the story, or, like Simon, do we want God at our own convenience and on our own terms?
What sort of response does Jesus expect from us? Had he come to our house to eat with us, what welcome would he have received?