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A ministry of Christian writing

Light of Life: August 2012

Editorial: DOWRY - P. Abraham



TIME FOR CHANGE - Leonard Cutler






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August 2012


Leonard Cutler

Someone said, "In my life-time I've seen a lot of things change, and I've been against them all!" Perhaps he overstated the point, but many of us would agree that we don't like change, especially if it involves altering our habits and attitudes.

That's one reason Jesus was so unpopular among the Pharisees. He challenged their long-established system of good works and self-righteous living. They spoke about the Law; He spoke about love. They emphasised forceful obedience; He embodied selfless giving. They were considerate to the rich; He was the champion of the poor. They talked about rigidity; He preached and demonstrated change.

As He began His public ministry (Lk.4:16-19), He talked about bringing a change. He said that His mission was to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to grant recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. Doesn't sound like the start of a promising career, does it? For the Jews always believed that God would reveal Himself only to those who obeyed every word of His Law, gave richly to the Lord, and had good eyes to see God. But Jesus challenged their entire perception of things. He brought a drastic change in their teaching, teaching them to unlearn the old and learn the new (Matt.5:21-22; 27-28;31-32; 33-37; 38-39;43-44).

Even in this incident we see Him following a similar pattern. The story is pretty simple: Jesus is invited to a dinner at a Pharisee's house, where the town sinner displays lavish affection for Him. This is not taken well by the 'saint' and he begins to doubt Jesus' credibility as a prophet. And as he is in these thoughts, Jesus responds to him with a story that changes the entire perspective of who a sinner is.

Verses 36-37: These verses introduce us to the characters of the story. "One of the Pharisees," who are last mentioned in verse 30 as those who rejected God's purpose for them, invites Jesus to a banquet. The sinner woman comes uninvited to the banquet; the woman is identified particularly as a 'sinner' connecting this verse to verse 34, where Jesus is identified as "a friend of tax collectors and sinners." So then, the story is about Jesus, a Pharisee, and a sinful woman, and Jesus' interaction with them. All these groups find a reference in the preceding verses.

Verse 38: The fact that the woman brought an alabaster jar of perfume with her shows that she wanted to anoint Jesus. She stood weeping behind Jesus and then began to wash His feet with her tears. In a spontaneous act, she let down her hair and wiped the tears from Jesus' feet and anointed them with the perfume. Touching or caressing a man's feet could have sexual overtones, as did letting down hair. No wonder, to the Pharisee it represented a challenge both to his honour and to Jesus.'

Verse 39: Therefore the Pharisee makes an assumption that if Jesus were a prophet, He would know what kind/sort of woman she was. From this he infers that since Jesus does not stop the woman from doing what she is doing, He is no prophet.

Verses 40-47: Here we are introduced to the Pharisee as Simon. Jesus knows his thoughts (cf. Lk. 5:21-22; 6:7-8) and asks him a riddle through a short story. "Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

The answer to the riddle is so plain and simple that Simon responds with disdain, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled."

Gracious Gestures
The clay has begun to crumble. The trap has been sprung. What remains is to connect his answer to his condemnation of the woman's act of love and gratitude. Jesus firstly commends Simon for giving the right answer, turns to the woman and pat comes a verbal slap in the face of Simon through Jesus' response. Jesus contrasts the behaviour of the woman to that of Simon the Pharisee. "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman from the time I entered has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet…"

None of these was required, but they were gracious gestures of hospitality elsewhere [foot washing (Gen. 18:4; 19:2; Judg. 19:21; 1Sam.25:41; Jn.13:3-5), kiss of greeting (2Sam. 15:5; Lk.15:20;22:47-48), anointing with oil (Psa.23:5, 133:2; Mk. 14:3)]. Thus Jesus uses Simon's own response to the riddle (v.43) to interpret the woman's actions.

Verse 48: In contrast to the self-righteous Simon the Pharisee, the sinful woman receives commendation and forgiveness from Jesus. Speaking to Simon's "I-feel-pretty-good-about-myself" attitude Jesus says, "...he who has been forgiven little loves little" (v.47).

Unless we see something of ourselves in the character of Simon the Pharisee, we are so blind to our own need that we have failed to hear the story. The challenge is clear. Lulled into thinking how good we are, our love for Jesus wanes because we have forgotten that we too are among the ones "forgiven much." And when that happens, it's time for a change.

Are we ready to accept that time of change? How many times we have been like Simon, the Pharisee, putting down and looking down on others. But God's word clearly reminds us, it's time for a change.

When God starts changing things,
He usually begins with changing us.

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