The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful (1): The Good That's Bad
Intro –I want to do a three part series looking at each major player of this account – the good (Simon), the bad (the woman) and the beautiful (Jesus). Of course, things are not as they seem. The good is really bad; the bad is really good; and in the middle is Jesus inviting both to faith in Him. Simon is outwardly as good as it gets, but he fails to acknowledge Christ for who He really is and thus is unforgiven. His goodness is bad. The woman has accepted Jesus as Savior – and thus her badness has turned to good. What a story – all revolving around what people do with Christ. Today, let’s look at Simon.
To the world around him and to himself, Simon is a good man – a Pharisee who is striving mightily to keep the law as he understands it. But as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “Much evil is done by good people who do not know that they are not good.” That description was made for Simon – doing good with a rebellious heart. Inevitably such people get Jesus wrong. Simon invited Jesus to dinner to check Him out –to judge Him. But -- Jesus did not come into the world to be judged; He came to be believed.
We have turned that on its ear. C. S. Lewis says it well: “The ancient man approached God (or the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge; God is in the dock [on trial]. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to Him. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal but the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”
But God will not be tried by us. Heb 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Jesus did not come to prove God; He came to reveal Him. Until we get that settled, we will never know Him. He is not on trial; we are. And the question is what will we do with Him? Jesus told his disciples in John 14:10-11, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” The evidence is there through His Word and His works -- but He didn’t come to be judged; He came to be believed.
Those two attitudes are contrasted beautifully in this passage. One is judging; the other believing. One is forgiven; the other condemned. One attitude turned good into bad; the other turned bad into good. The woman is a believer. Simon was too busy judging Jesus to see God when God is standing right in front of his face. He was spiritually blind as a bat. Consequently, he got everything wrong. So, let’s look at Simon in detail.
I.The Good That’s Bad (Simon) (unforgiven and spiritually blind)
When is good, bad? When it thinks it is good enough! That’s Simon. When you judge Jesus, everything is skewed. Let’s set the stage. Lu 7:36: “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” To the Pharisees Jesus is blasphemous. He works on the Sabbath; He associates with lowlife, and He claims to forgive sin! And He’s stolen their popularity. They are obsessed with taking Him down.
Simon is subtle -- kind of a cool dude Pharisee! Like a Hollywood celebrity who throws lots of parties, invites just the right people –whoever is getting the headlines. So, who better to invite than Jesus – great for entertainment value, and who knows? Maybe Simon can catch him out. Simon is not a seeker – rude from the start – didn’t wash Jesus’ feet, didn’t greet Him with a kiss, didn’t anoint his head. Simon’s at the top of the social and religious pile in Palestine, and Jesus is an itinerate, backwoods preacher – a supposed healer. Simon invites Him for the novelty, but He makes sure the class distinctions remain intact. That tells us all we need to know about Simon.
He’s totally different from another Pharisee – Nicodemus sincerely sought to know Jesus in John 3:2, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” He’s not there to judge; he’s there to know. Jesus eventually tells him, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He invites Nicodemus to believe. That’s why He came – not to be judged, but to be believed. Nic did as we see him later in John 7 defending Jesus, and in John 19 helping bury Him. It matters what you believe about Jesus, Beloved. Simon got everything wrong.
A.He Misjudged the Woman
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Luke uses 2 verb tenses to make a critical point. V. 37: “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” “Was” is imperfect tense -- continuous action in the past. Luke’s telling us this woman had a colored past. Specifics not given. Possibly an adulteress. More likely a prostitute, a “woman of the city.” She and her sin were well known.
She was not an invited guest. Her presence is odd to us. But at that time great gatherings were held in courtyards, and uninvited guests often slipped inside to listen to the conversation (this was in the days before TV and I-Pads!) – especially when a rabbi was present. Still, it was bold for a woman of her reputation to come. And when she actually began to shed tears and anoint and kiss Jesus’ feet inserting herself into the proceedings, Simon was absolutely appalled.
Now for the second verb tense. As Simon watches Christ accept attention from a notorious sinner, he thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Luke says the woman was a sinner. Simon judges she still is a sinner. He’s judged her a sinner based on her past. But he is dead wrong. Blind to reality. He could not see beyond her past to her present! So he gives the worst interpretation to her actions! Per v. 39 he is appalled that Jesus is allowing this sort of woman to be touching him. In his mind, Jesus has made Himself ceremonially unclean by contact with a sinner. But he’s wrong! She is not a sinner! She has passed from death to life and she is a sinner no more. How do we know that? Jesus tells us that – not once, but twice!
V. 47:, “47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Jesus reads Simon’s mind and responds: “You thought I didn’t know her past Simon? Here’s what I know -- Her past is past! Her many sins are utterly forgiven.” Unspoken is the question, “How dare you bring them up?” To reassure the woman, He turns to her in v. 48 and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” It’s a double assurance. Don’t ever doubt it. They are gone. Jesus uses the same verb in both instances and the same perfect tense -- an action that has happened in the past with continuing results in the present. Her sins are forgiven now and forever. Sometime in the past she heard Jesus’ message, repented her sins and received forgiveness. She’s come to show her undying gratitude. Simon thought he knew her; he didn’t know her at all. He was blind to the forgiving power of Jesus Christ, even when the results were right in front of his face. He interpreted as sleazy that which was sacred.
So, did this woman ever sin again? Of course. “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” We must continually confess our sin as I John 1:9 urges: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s written to believers because we still sin. But “sinner” is no longer our identity. It’s not who we are anymore. We’ve been forgiven, forever. We are not our past! —and we must not judge others on their past. The question isn’t who were they before; it is who are they now. Our vision is totally skewed when we judge Jesus instead of believe Him. That’s why Simon misjudged this woman. Couldn’t see beyond her past.
B.He Misjudged Jesus
Simon made a far more serious miscalculation than the woman – he misjudged Jesus. Totally underestimated Him. Jesus didn’t fit the mold of the Pharisees. They wanted a ruler in their own image. They wanted a tame Messiah – and that was not Jesus. Simon’s judgment is v. 39: “9 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” The Greek language has several ways to say “If”. The grammatical structure used here could be translated, “If this man were a prophet, and I assume that he is not.” Simon judges Jesus is no Messiah; He’s not even a prophet or He would recognize this woman for what she is.
Jesus quickly sets one record straight about His being a prophet. He reads minds, for crying out loud! Without Simon saying a word, Jesus’ shows He knows perfectly well what Simon is thinking, what kind of woman this is -- and what kind of man Simon is. At the very least, He is a prophet. He says in v. 40, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” Jesus then proceeds to give the parable we will look at next week showing Jesus totally in charge. Then He asks in v. 44, “Do you see this woman? You thought you did, but look closely. She is everything that you are not. She believed and is forgiven; you judged and are in your sins. Her bad is good; your good is bad. So what was Simon’s problem? Lack of info?
Hardly. He’d seen Jesus’ power over and over. That’s why he invited Him in the first place. Simon didn’t fail to believe for lack of information. He failed to believe because he didn’t want to believe. Anyone who rejects Christ does so because they do not want to believe. There are a million excuses.
Most people misjudge Jesus because of the miracles. If you start with the premise that miracles are impossible, you must reject the historical record of Jesus. Thus beginning in the 18th century, countless attempts have been made to explain Jesus the man with no deity and no miracles. Thomas Jefferson, a Deist and devout naturalist, judged Jesus by physically cutting the miracles out. David Strauss scandalized Europe with Life of Christ in 1835, attempting to explain Jesus without the miracles. Many followed, culminating in Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus in 1906 which showed previous attempts merely imposed the prejudices of the authors onto the life of Christ and proved nothing. But Schweitzer did the same thing, and his work, highly acclaimed at first, was soon consigned to the trash bin of history.
The attempt to define Jesus without miracles was revived in 1985 when Robert Funk convened the Jesus Seminar –150 critical scholars and laymen who presented papers to each other and voted on what to accept and what not from existing historical records. Judging Jesus. They created a furor for a time, holding lectures and workshops, each participant promoting his own view. Jesus was generally portrayed as an itinerant Greek-influenced Jewish sage attacking convention and preaching social justice. In other words once again Jesus looked just like the scholars attempting to define Him. Their work is largely discredited by liberal and conservative alike.
The resurrection proves who Jesus is. You’ll never understand Him without the miracles. He did not come to be judged; He came to be believed. He does not need man’s approval; man needs His salvation. Jesus gave evidence of His person over and over, but people who did not want to believe only asked for more. That is what happens when we stand in judgment of Christ.
Lee Strobel was a brilliant graduate of Harvard Law School who was for many years the law editor for the Chicago Tribune. A confirmed atheist, he was astounded one day when his wife announced that she’d accepted Christ. Expecting the worst, he instead found himself attracted to the changes in her life. He began a 2-year investigation in the resurrection of Christ, realizing that that event was pivotal. This resulted in The Case for Christ. To his chagrin, he came to realize it took more faith to believe in his atheism than to accept Christ. But he was a profane, immoral, self-absorbed man. To stop judging and to believe was difficult. But in his own words: “So on November 8, 1981, I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving the gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. . . . There were no lightning bolts, no audible replies, no tingly sensations. I know that some people feel a rush of emotion at such a moment; as for me, however, there was something else that was equally exhilarating: there was the rush of reason.” His life so changed that soon his 5-year-old daughter said to his wife, "Mommy, I want God to do for me what he's done for Daddy.” That’s what happens when we stop judging Jesus and begin to believe in Him.
C.He Misjudged Himself
Jesus speaks to Simon in v.44-47, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus is gentle. He leaves unsaid the logical extension of thought – he who is forgiven not at all, loves not at all. That’s the category Simon is in. Jesus is gently inviting Simon to re-think himself.
Simon has badly misjudged himself. He thought He was good, but his actions betrayed a heart that was black with sin and rejected the Savior. He thought he was good enough on his own. But he was wrong! He had not seen himself from God’s perspective, and God looks on the heart. Thru this despised woman Jesus shows His power to forgive and transform someone Simon considered the worst of the worst. But in reality Simon was the worst of the worst. People who think they are good enough cannot be saved until something shakes them out of their lethargy and brings reality crashing down on them.
Did Simon ever become a follower of Jesus? We don’t know. Many Pharisees did after Jesus’ ascension. I hope Simon was one. His problem was he just had too much going for him to see the heart of sin that was at the core of his being. He was like the old cowboy and his Indian friend who were deeply touched by a sermon. The Indian immediately gave his life to Christ, but the white man held out for several days before accepting Jesus. He wondered later why he waited. His Indian friend told him, “I can tell you. Jesus is like a rich prince who wanted to give us each a new coat. You shook your head and replied, ‘I don’t think so; mine looks good enough.’ When he made the same offer to me, I looked at my old blanket and said, ‘This is good for nothing,’ and I gratefully accepted the beautiful garment. You wouldn’t give up your own goodness; I knew I had none to give up.” Much evil is done by good people who do not know they are not good . And the person they hurt most – is themselves. That is the thing that causes people to judge Jesus rather than believe Him. Let’s pray.