As I imagine it, it wouldn’t have been what I would call a “fun” dinner party. Partying with the legalists. I imagine what it must have been like hanging with the Pharisees. It must’ve been a grand old time!
8:00 Welcome guests.
8:00-8:04 Take and hang up cloaks in alphabetical order.
8:04-8:05 Seat guests alphabetically.
8:05 Serve each guests two cookies.
8:06-8:20 Guests may engage in superficial social conversation
8:30 Serve drinks: 8 oz.
8:35 Tell joke about Caesar.
8:35:30-8:35:45 Guests laugh, discreet knee slapping permitted.
8:36-8:45 Guests talk quietly among themselves
8:45 Guests will leave. (Seriously, guests will go home.)
8:48 Off-duty temple guards will escort loiterers from the premises.
It’s hard to party by a list.
But according to Luke 7, Jesus accepts this dinner invitation from Simon the Pharisee. He arrives at Simon’s house, takes his place, and is served a meal. There does not seem be much in the way of welcome or even polite conversation implied here. It promises to be one of those long, long evenings.
The Foot Washing
It gets interesting when a “woman of the city, a sinner” (Luke 7:37) finds her way to Jesus as he reclines at the table. Coming up behind him, she begins to wash his feet.
Foot-washing was not an uncommon practice at that time. It was, in fact, customary for a host to welcome his dinner guests by assigning a house slave to wash their tired and dusty feet. We don’t know why Simon neglects to offer this to Jesus, but we do know that Simon is not pleased when this particular woman finds her way to his house. Luke identifies her as a hamartoios, defined as “one who is devoted to sin, preeminently sinful, especially wicked…stained with certain definite vices or crimes.” It is clear that she represents the worst possible offense against the dignity and repose of this tea party.
A Speechless Pharisee
Yet here she comes: the noted sinner enters a den of Pharisees and washes the feet of the Prophet in the most personal, awkwardly public way possible. She washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair before anointing them with expensive, sweet-smelling ointment. Her appearance is not only unscheduled but awkward as well. Nothing kills a party mood like a weeping woman.
Simon may not be saying anything out loud, but he is clearly working himself into quite a private snit over the fact that this supposed holy man has not recoiled at her touch! A speechless Pharisee is not necessarily a happy Pharisee.
Jesus’ response to Simon is clear: your heart is as cold as your welcome.
Those who have a high opinion of their own righteousness seem to see forgiveness as a mere formality. “Of course God will forgive me,” they proclaim. “He knows quality when he sees it.” They are poised to high-five the Almighty in a shared moment of mutual congratulations.
But this woman isn’t like that. She knows who she is and who she is not. Because she has felt the full weight of her sin, she knows what it feels like to have the burden lifted. She knows in the depth of her soul the glorious nature of grace.
C.S. Lewis has said that the gospel always begins in despair and ends in hope. (Mere Christianity) Those of us who became Christians as older teens or adults probably remember a little of what it was like inside our heads before we came to know the Lord Jesus, though that is a little like trying to remember who we were before we had children or before we fell in love. What was it like without Jesus? How do you put your finger on something that is simultaneously as complex as total molecular transformation and as simple as delight?
Sometimes we would be wise to revisit that despair and remember what it was like not to know. To remember when the closest we could get to security was maybe. “Maybe if I just try hard and don’t screw up too badly today, that will be enough.” To remember what it was like when the only way to gauge our own virtue was to point to someone worse. “I’ve never murdered, I’ve never _____. I’m not a bad person.” To remember what it was like to put ourselves into religious poses and mouth the right words in hopes that God (if there was a God) would be impressed. To remember when hope, having little substance, was just another way to say maybe.
It is important to remember that despair, because we need to remember where we started, who we were, and what it was like to be us. As a weeping Mary anoints Jesus for the day of his burial, he notes, “She who is forgiven much, loves much.” (Luke 7:47) It is dangerous to forget what it was like to be us before.
The simplicity of the gospel is found here: I was nothing. I brought nothing into this relationship but the complete and absolute awareness that I had nothing to offer him. There was nothing attractive about me. I was not just under a death sentence; I was dead. Not, to borrow a phrase from the Official Coroner of Oz, “…only merely dead, but… really, most sincerely dead.” I was helpless to fix anything. An enemy of God, I had no effective interest in setting anything right.
But while I was sinful, while I was helpless, and while I was his enemy, he died for me. Though God seems to choose to honor our turning in faith—our hunger, our willingness to be made willing—the how and why of it all remains paradoxically inexplicable.
It is just as important to remember that moment when we first realized that hope is something we can trust our whole weight to, something more solid than a promise. We must remember the moment we knew we were not alone anymore. In that moment the weight just lifted, and in its place came the certainty that everything had been set right once for all, forever.
The power of the gospel is felt in this: I was a slave and now I am free. Unable to free myself, my Master paid the purchase price with his own blood and bought me for his own. Now, having been bought by not just any god but the one true God, the only begotten God, I have been indwelt by the Spirit of the living God and can never be sold into slavery again. I am my Beloved’s and he is mine. The same power that raised Christ’s lifeless body from a very real death has also raised me, and my redemption is complete, secure, and eternal.
This love is not measured by level teaspoons but is immeasurable and uncontainable. It has no height, nor breadth, nor width, nor length. It is that infinite line that has neither beginning nor end. It began long before the foundations of the world and will continue to run long after our world is gone. We love him because he first loved us. The power of salvation to those who believe equals intricate, joyous simplicity.
Lies, on the other hand, are never simple.
The lie reduces relationships to checklists, laws, and chores. The lie says love is something we earn. If we are good children, we will be rewarded. Good children never color outside the lines.
The gospel says his love is not a reward but a gift.
The lie sees damaged goods.
The gospel sees the image of God restored in me.
The lie keeps a running tally of every wrong, every omission, and every failure and demands payment.
The gospel says Tetelestai! Paid in full!
The gospel speaks of boldness, confidence, peace, hope, joy, and delight and leaves us as secure as a child at rest in his daddy’s arms.
The gospel is gloriously simple.