A Story About Debt
Jesus had been invited to a dinner party at the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman (some say Mary Magdalene) came in and began anointing Jesus’ feet with oil. As the aroma of the oil filled the house, he posed this scenario to Simon and asked him a question. “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarius, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”
Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 NKJV)
That Uncomfortable Moment at Dinner
As I mentioned, Jesus told this story to Simon, a Pharisee who had invited him to dinner. Luke tells us that it was “a sinful woman” who brought expensive perfume and used it to anoint Jesus’ feet during the meal, weeping as she applied it with her own hair. Such behavior was scandalous in a wealthy Hebrew household. (Not the foot washing itself—what was inappropriate was 1] having a sinful woman in the house and 2] touching a man’s feet and 3] using her hair to do it!)
In Middle Eastern culture, the head was considered honorable and the feet were dishonorable, so for her to touch Jesus’ feet with her hair was an act that technically made her unclean, and caused her most honorable feature to be abased. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:15, “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory”, and in this case she was willing to use her glory like a dirty rag in order to honor Jesus.
Apparently Simon did not extend even the common courtesy of foot washing to Jesus even though he had him over to dinner. The New Testament mentions foot washing as a form of expected hospitality several times, and it was customary for wealthy homeowners to have a servant who washed feet. In poorer homes, there was a bowl of water placed outside to rinse feet on the way in.
Why Foot Washing?
Of course you’ll recall that foot-washing took place at another dinner party, at the Last Supper in the upper room. Jesus himself washed the disciples’ feet, humbling himself as a servant and giving them clean feet. “What a quaint custom!“, you say. “But why all the fuss about feet?” Think about it. These folks wore sandals, walked on dirty roads, and stepped through the village or town to get to someone’s house. There were animals like goats, horses, and cows who also used these same walkways, and this was also before the days of indoor plumbing. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what people may have stepped in as they walked across town. I was in a couple of refugee villages in Africa, and trust me, when there is no indoor plumbing, you need to be careful where you step.
The washing of feet was not just a quaint custom, it was a housekeeping necessity. It was certainly nice for weary guests, but it made a lot of sense from a sanitary point of view. It also explains how significant it was for anyone to wash someone else’s feet. It was a true act of humility and love.
So, Who’s the Debtor?
In this case, Jesus pointed out that the woman, a sinner who had been forgiven much, could not refrain from honoring him, while Simon, a man who assumed his own righteousness, failed to do so. Have you ever stopped to think about how much sinful debt you accumulated over a lifetime? If every sin cost just a little, have you ever reckoned the size of your debt? Think about that, and celebrate how much you’ve been forgiven today. Trust me, it’s way more than five hundred denarius’ worth.
Feet of Strength
The custom in the Bible was to wash your visitors’ feet;
You never knew what kind of grime they’d pick up in the street!
But it meant more than simply keeping entries clean and neat,
It had to do with honoring the people that you’d meet.
Simon was a Pharisee who asked the Lord to dinner;
A woman anointed Jesus’ feet: this woman was a sinner!
No one would have honored her, or even would have been her;
But Jesus told a story where this sinner was a winner.
He saw how Simon judged her! Jesus knew he was upset;
He told him that the Lord’s great love forgave the greatest debt;
The greatest debtors claimed greatest Grace that they could get:
Jesus loved them dearly then; I know he loves them yet.
Sometime, in the kingdom after many, many years,
We’ll meet the woman who anointed Jesus with her tears–
Who took her proudest feature and abased it with her touch;
And she will say, “My sins and my eternal debts were such
That I required forgiveness. I have been forgiven much.”
We will smile a bit about the etiquette disaster
She caused by bringing oil and tears to serve her Lord and master;
Jesus said our sin was great, but that his Grace was greater:
My friend, if you believe He’s right, then I will see you later!
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