The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi


Finishing up this story of Jesus eating in the house of Simon the Pharisee.


“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”    Jesus gives Simon a short parable, very simple.  Easy to understand.   One debtor owed $50,000, another $5,000.   The creditor cancelled the debt if both.  By the way – don’t get it twisted – forgiveness is NOT a debt paid.  Forgiveness is a debt cancelled.   Forgives is not a complicated exchange with somebody finally getting paid off.    Forgiveness is not a debt paid, but a debt cancelled.  Whoever is out is out, in this case the creditor, who just says, don’t worry about it, I cancel the debt.  That’s the parable.


Now Jesus asks Simon a question.  Now which of them will love him more?    Simon realizes he’s probably being worked into a corner, being set up.   He’s kind of hesitant.  The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.   To which Jesus says EXACTLY!!    And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.   Now, Simon has been judging the whole time.  He’s judged Jesus, not a prophet.  He’s judged the woman, sinner.  And he’s been judging wrongly on both counts.

Woman Opens Windows And Enjoys The Landscape

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”     


Question – Why has this prostitute done this lavish thing?   Why has she shown up weeping and kissing Jesus feet?  Is it in response to a miracle?  I don’t think so.  But I think we get a clue if we look at preceding three verses in Luke, just before this whole scene at Simon’s house.  “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”” Luke 7:33-35 ESV.  Jesus is talking about how people ridiculed both John and himself in different ways.  John was austere, he neither ate nor drank, and they said he had a demon.  They saw Jesus, look at him!   Eating and drinking with the sinners, they said he was a drunkard and a glutton.  A friend of tax collectors and sinners.  But we’ll see, because wisdom is justified by its fruits, by what it produces, by the children it brings forward.

I believe this woman is responding to the love she has seen in Jesus.  She’s lived a life excluded from the wider society.  She’s always been ostracized and rejected, and Jesus, a prominent rabbi, is changing all that.  He is accepting, and loving, and willing to dine with people like her.  It breaks her.  She can’t stay away.  She’s risking much, as a prostitute you just don’t go into the Pharisees home uninvited.


Up until now, Jesus has not referred to the woman.   He’s discerned the thought of Simon the Pharisee and gave him the parable which is a new lens to see the whole situation.    Then he says Do you see this woman?   Which is kind of comical.   You mean the woman at your feet sobbing hysterically with her hair down, kissing your feet and anointing them with perfume.   Yes I happened to notice her!! 

But the fact is that Simon had not seen the woman.  Simon do you see this woman?  Simon didn’t see a woman.  Simon saw a category.  He saw a prostitute.  Simon saw a sinner.  Simon saw a label.  Jesus saw a woman.  We don’t know her back story, we don’t know what led her into that life.  But Jesus saw her as a person, as a woman.  He’s trying to get Simon to see her as a woman.

your sins are forgiven

Strange thing is, because Simon saw this woman as a category and not a human being, he misjudged her.  The one who actually did act inappropriately in all this was…Simon.  Jesus brings that up, saying, you invited me into your house, as a rabbi, for your symposium, and you didn’t give me the customary basin with a towel for my feet.  We always do that, but you didn’t even do that for me.  But don’t worry, she had made up for your sin by how she has bathed my feet in her tears and dried them with her hair.  And, Simon, I arrived and you wouldn’t even give me the formality of the customary kiss on the cheek.   You were so suspicious of me, you wouldn’t even give me the customary greeting.  But don’t worry.  She’s made up for your sin, since I arrived she has not ceased to kiss, not my cheek, but my feet.

kiss on the cheek

I came to your house, you didn’t offer the customary, plain old olive oil for my head.  But don’t worry about it Simon, she’s made up for your sin by anointing my feet with costly perfume.   Jesus is giving Simon a new way of seeing this whole situation.  Was he capable of it?   Was he saying to himself, “Oh, my god!  I’ve gotten this all wrong!  I can’t believe, this blows my mind!”   Do you think Simon was saying this to himself?  Probably not…

pointing finger

When we are in the habit of labeling others and categorizing others and labeling ourselves, and having to live down to our label, we will constantly be misjudging situations and circumstances.  Jesus tries to save us from that by seeing people and not categories and labels.

There are two ways of looking at this story.  One is that this is the story of a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders.  This is quite clear from the story.    We have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, one a Pharisee and the other a rabbi.


The righteousness of one of these religious leaders requires him to categorically exclude the sinful woman.  He labels her, this woman is a prositure and a sinner, I categorically exclude her from my world.  His righteousness required him to do this, to exclude this woman from his world.

The righteousness of the other, though, compels him to receive and forgive this sinful woman.  Only one of them is enacting the kingdom of God and announcing the gospel.  You’ll have to decide which one that is.


Too often we have heard it preached, proclaimed and enacted as though the gospel was how well we can categorize who the sinners are and who is to be excluded.  That is one approach, and one of these religious leaders took that approach.  Another religious leader, in the same situation, chose instead to receive and include the sinful woman, and also to forgive her.  Only one is an enactment of the kingdom and announcement of the gospel.

That is one, true way of looking at this story, but there is another way as well.  This is the deeper meaning of the story.  It’s not that we have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, but instead we have two sinners in the presence of Jesus.  One sinner refuses Jesus his due honor, then proceeds to judge and label others.

Open bible with man and cross

The other sinner makes no judgment about others, but simply gives Jesus extravagant love.   Only one of these sinners places herself in a position to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.

Jesus now speaks directly to the woman.  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.   Her sins are forgiven.  Not paid off, but cancelled.  This brings a reaction, doesn’t it.  Now we hear from everybody else at the dinner.  “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”   Who indeed.  Who is this who forgives sins?  Jesus forgives sins because he can.  He can because he is the incarnate expression of the father.

This is what the father is like.  We haven’t always known that, but now we do.  We thought God demanded sacrifice.  It turns out he doesn’t want sacrifice, he wants mercy, because that’s who he is.

This is the. word, the logos, the logic of God, made flesh.  The logic of God says I will respond to sin with forgiveness.  Jesus only does what he sees the father doing.  Everything, every act, every miracle, meal, healing, teaching, and parable that Jesus did was an expression of the father.   Remember this exchange between Jesus and Phillip in the upper room.  “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:8-9 ESV   Jesus forgives sins because he can, because that is what God is like.

The only thing that keeps us from forgiveness is our refusal to turn toward the love of God, and our refusal to turn toward others in love.  This is why we always pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others…

Hell is to argue with love.  Don’t argue with God’s love.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

John Lewis

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