In Luke 7:36-50, two people befriend Jesus. The first is Simon the Pharisee. Though the other Pharisees want to kill Jesus, Simon realizes He could be the real thing; He can heal and even raise the dead. So Simon invites Jesus home for a meal, and He accepts.
Soon after they sit down to eat, the second friend enters the scene: a woman with a bad reputation — perhaps a prostitute. From the story, it’s clear that Jesus had transformed her in a previous encounter. Now she longs for a tangible way to express her gratitude.
When she hears Jesus is at Simon’s house, the woman can’t stop herself; she has to see Him. She brings an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and weeps as she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.
Simon is repulsed by who the woman is, and thinks Jesus should be repulsed. Since He isn’t, in Simon’s reasoning, Jesus must not know what kind of woman she is, and thus, He can’t be a true prophet. His Pharisee friends are right: Jesus is a phony.
Having allowed Simon time to misjudge Him, Jesus sees this as the moment to draw His friend into a closer relationship. To do so, He must also risk pushing Simon away. Jesus gently opens the door: “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Then He tells Simon a story of two people who were forgiven debts. The creditor forgave one a debt ten times larger than the other. Then Jesus asks Simon, “Which of them will love him more?” Simon responds, “The one he forgave more.”
Now comes the moment of truth. For Simon to love Jesus as his Savior, not just as his friend, he must first see himself as a sinner. He cannot hide behind his reputation as a Pharisee and the woman’s reputation as a prostitute. He must accept that this woman’s actions have been that of a loving friend — more loving than his own. Jesus says to him (paraphrasing), “You gave me no water for My feet, no kiss, and no oil. This woman did all those things for me. Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Now Jesus turns to the woman and speaks the words that both she and Simon need to hear: “Your sins are forgiven.” To the woman, it’s the joy of forgiveness. To Simon, it’s Jesus revealing His divinity, because only God can forgive sins.
How does Simon respond? We don’t know. It’s as if the author is saying that Simon’s response isn’t the point. The point is, how do I respond to Jesus’ love as His friend? Do I love Jesus a little or much? In John 15:12, 14, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. . . . You are my friends if you do what I command you” (ESV).
Jesus wants to rescue a lost world through me. To be His friend, I must be faithful in the responsibility He’s entrusted to me: His Great Commission. If my love for Jesus isn’t where it needs to be, I need to reflect on how much I’ve been forgiven.
Jody McCoy is executive director of the General Conference and lives in Austin, TX.