The Penitent Woman
J. R. Miller
Jesus did not turn His back on social pleasures. Herein He differed from the Baptist. We are almost certainly right in saying that John would not have gone to the wedding feast in Cana—Jesus went, and went gladly. John, we are quite sure, would not have gone to diner at the Pharisee's house—Jesus accepted the invitation without a question and without hesitation. His heart was full of gracious love for men, and He sought every opportunity to do good. He was in the world—but His life remained heavenly in its purity and sweetness. Wherever He went—He carried blessing.
The two characters, besides Jesus, in this story, are the woman and the Pharisee. The woman was spoken of as "a sinner." The Pharisee was as sinner, too—but not of the same kind as the woman. Yet he scarcely seems to have been conscious that he was a sinner.
The woman was known as a bad woman; but something had happened just before we see her coming into Simon's house which had wrought a great change in her. Some of the gracious worlds of Jesus had fallen into her heart—and had started there the vision of a better life.
The woman had followed Jesus into the house, drawn by love for Him who had saved her. She carried in her hand a box of costly ointment. She fell at the Master's feet. She wept, bathing His feet with her tears, then drying off the tears with her untressed hair, kissing them, and then anointing them with the ointment. All this was an expression of deep love which was quite in accordance with Oriental ways. It was the grateful act of a truly penitent sinner.
Jesus seems not to have been disturbed by the woman, and not to have said anything to her. But His host saw what was going on, and his spirit was vexed within him. He said nothing, either—but into his heart came the thought, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." According to Simon's religion, a godly man should keep himself altogether away from all who are wicked. The touch of sinners would defile him.
What was the Pharisee's mistake? Did Jesus not know what kind of woman this was? Yes, He knew all about her—her whole past life, all its shame and guilt. But He knew also that she had repented, had given up her sin, had turned to God, and was now a saved woman.
The Pharisee thought that if Jesus had known who the woman was—He would have spurned her. But Jesus had come to the world to be a physician, and a physician does not spurn the sick—they are the very people it is in His mission to receive and to help. The lost are the very ones Jesus came to save, and He will not turn His back on one of them. This woman was welcome at His feet—just because she was a sinner, now penitent.
Of all those who come to Christ, none are so welcome as those who have in their hearts a deep sense of unworthiness. The banished woman in "Lalla Rookh," wandered everywhere, searching for earth's most precious thing, having been told that when she brings it, the gate of heaven would be opened to her. Again and again she brought precious things—but it was only when she bore, last of all, a penitent's tear that the gate of heaven opened to her. The dearest thing on earth to God—is a heart broken with sorrow for sin. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:17)
In a beautiful parable, Jesus explained to Simon the secret of the woman's love and her act of devotion. Two debtors, one of whom owed much, the other little, were both forgiven. Which would be the more grateful? Simon was able to answer the question, although it is doubtful if he understood its application. Two thoughts may be noted here: one is that, though the debts of the two men were different, both were debtors, and neither could pay what he owed. Sinners differ as to the amount of their debt to God—but he who has sinned least, is as unable to pay as he who has sinned the most.
The other thought is that both were forgiven. That was the only way either could become free from his debt, for neither could pay. The only hope of sinners is in the divine mercy. One man may look with pity upon his fellow in the depths of some great wickedness, yet he himself is a sinner, too, one who must be forgiven or perish. God's forgiveness is astonishing. It is great enough for the worst sinner. It wipes out as utterly the blackest sins, as the least defiling.
Jesus showed Simon that this woman loved more than he did—by comparing her treatment of him with Simon's. She had a deeper sense of her sin—and consequently a deeper sense of the mercy she had received than Simon had. She had wet His feet with her tears, and anointed them with ointment, while Simon had not even given Him water for His feet. The more we realize our sinfulness, the greater is our love for Christ when we are forgiven. It is often true, that the worst sinners—make the best Christians. They love more because they owe more to Christ. All through Paul's life of wonderful devotion, the memory of his past enmity to Christ appears as a motive for his sublime consecration. He sought to burn out the shame of his past wickedness, by more intense devotion and more earnest service. If we understood better how much we owe to God's mercy—we would be more earnest in our Christian consecration. "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
The words of Jesus to the penitent woman were full of comfort. He told her first that her faith had saved her. How that word "save" must have thrilled her! The poor, shame-soiled, sin-ruined thing that the Pharisee would have spurned from his feet—saved! An heir of heaven now, destined to walk the heavenly streets in white!
Christ touched this sinful soul—and it was transformed into beauty! That is what He is doing everyday, and can and will do for everyone who creeps to His feet in penitence and faith.
Another of Christ's words of comfort to the woman was, "Go in peace." Peace comes with forgiveness. There never can be any true peace—while sins are unforgiven. The dwellers on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius plant their gardens and live in their villas and go on with their work and pleasure, and yet they know that beneath them sleep evermore, the awful fires of the volcano, which any day or night may burst out and sweep them away to death. The sinner with his life's sin unforgiven, can never have true peace. He is sleeping over a volcano. But when sin is forgiven—there is peace with God.