Luke 7:36-50 Sermon Illustrations

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Luke 7:36-50

"The woman who loved Jesus most"

Luke 7:36-50




1. Among the legendary stories about Abraham Lincoln is the account of his visit to a slave auction. He went to observe, not to participate. He watched the unspeakable indignities of selling and buying human beings. His response was a mixture of disgust, sadness and outrage.

As he stood there a young woman was brought to the block, her eyes and body language screaming defiance and hatred. She had been used and abused by her previous owners and now it was going to happen all over again.

The bidding began and to everyone’s amazement, Lincoln offered a bid. As the price went up, so did Lincoln’s bids until the auctioneer declared him the buyer. He paid her price and then went over to where she was being held. All her animosity was focused straight at him. He looked at her and simply said, "You’re free." Dripping defiance and distrust, she said, "Yeah, free for what?" Abraham Lincoln answered, "free to do anything you want to do; free to go anywhere you want to go." Her appearance changed as she took in his words and realized he meant what he said. Lincoln repeated himself: "You’re free . . . free to go anywhere you want to go." She answered, "then I’m going with you!"

2. Her emotions are much like those in a true story from the life of Jesus, reported in Luke 7:36-50.

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "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."

Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Tell me, teacher," he said.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "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. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."

The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."


I. The sinful woman who lost control Luke 7:36-38

1. The occasion was a dinner party in the home of a well-to-do Pharisee. If the house was typical of the homes of wealthy people in those times, it was built in a square around a courtyard.

Entertaining was done in the courtyard with dinner guests reclining on couches around a low table. They laid on their sides, heads propped up with their left hands, feet bare and using their right hands to eat.

Such dinners were often open to the public. The host provided cushions around the perimeter of the courtyard so that uninvited visitors could have a place to sit, watch and listen. Lots of people might come if the dinner guests were especially famous or interesting people.


2. One of the local residents who came that day to see Jesus was a person described as "a woman who had lived a sinful life." This is a softer way of saying that she was the town prostitute. She made her living selling her body to men. You may surmise whatever you want about her and her background. She may have entered prostitution out of abuse or out of economic necessity or because of some psychological need or sexual passion. Whatever her background and reasons, she was morally indicted as a sinner. She knew that what she did was wrong and she did it anyway.


3. Some people probably thought her showing up was as bad as it could get. They didn’t want her there. She was an embarrassment. But they hadn’t seen anything yet. What she said and did was nothing short of astonishing.


4. She came up behind Jesus, by his feet.

We don’t know why she came so close or what she intended to do but she lost it.

Standing behind Jesus she began to cry until she was sobbing and the tears flowed and fell like water from a fountain. Such crying is never silent. With the tears came the sobs and everyone looked her way. She cried so much so fast that Jesus’ feet were soaked with her tears. She fell to her knees and instinctively did something she was never supposed to do - - - she reached up and unfastened her long hair so that it cascaded down in front of her. Then she used her long hair like a towel to wipe Jesus’ feet dry.

Most of the guests were shocked. They didn’t want her there in the first place. She made a scene with her crying. She broke one of the cardinal rules of society for women when she let down her hair. Only young girls wore their hair down. Women bound up their hair for everyone but their husbands. Loose flowing hair was a sign of sexual impropriety. And, even today, who would use hair for a towel, especially to wipe a stranger’s feet?

As if all this were not enough, she held Jesus’ feet and kissed them.

Then, she took out an alabaster container and poured perfume all over Jesus’ feet. Many women wore these small alabaster flasks on chains or strings around their necks. Alabaster is a soft stone, comparatively easy to carve into a container. It was a form of jewelry to make women look attractive. Perfume was very expensive and used on special occasions or as the family’s emergency savings account. It certainly was never to be wasted.

She lost track of everyone and everything else in the presence of Jesus. She forgot where she was. She didn’t think of what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It was as if no one else was there except Jesus. She was awed by him. She was overwhelmed by him.



5. Her behavior was shocking. She was out of control.


II. The self-righteous man who criticized Luke 7:39-40

1. The host was harshly critical - - - not so much of the woman and her behavior but of Jesus for tolerating what she did. He didn’t say anything out loud but he thought to himself, "If Jesus were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner." He discredited Jesus because he didn’t know how bad this woman was and because he allowed her to touch him. In his mind it proved Jesus was no prophet and certainly not the Messiah.


2. It makes us wonder why this man invited Jesus to his home in the first place.

He could have been an admirer. Maybe he thought so highly of Jesus that he wanted to be his disciple. His highest honor was to have Jesus come to his home for dinner.
But this seems unlikely for he did not treat Jesus very well:
1. A good host would have offered water to wash Jesus feet - - - roads were dusty and foot washing was as common then as taking off shoes at the Parade of Homes is today.
2. A good host would have greeted Jesus with a kiss, just as is still commonly done in so many cultures today.
3. A good host would have put some olive oil on Jesus’ head as was the frequent custom for guests at that time.
No, this host was no admirer of Jesus of Nazareth.

He could have been setting a trap. Many of his Pharisee friends were conspiring to trick and trap Jesus. The whole thing could have been a set-up to frame Jesus and take him down.
No, this is probably not the way it was because the host called Jesus "Rabbi" which seems unlikely if he were out to destroy him.

He could have been a collector. Some people get their sense of self-importance from who they know. It can be an ego and reputation builder to have an important and famous guest to your home.
(Early in our marriage Charleen and I had a guest book to be signed by those we entertained. I asked someone who was something of a celebrity in our world to sign the book. He wrote his name followed by a Bible reference: "Acts 28:2." After our guests left I quickly looked up the verse in the old King James Version of Bible, anxious for a compliment from such an important person. Acts 28:2 said, "and the barbarous people showed us no little kindness." We quit using the guest book.


3. From what we know about this man’s thoughts and behavior, he considered himself to be pretty good. He pegged himself as better than Jesus and certainly better than the sinful woman. He was good and they were bad. It’s a fine feeling to reckon yourself better than others, especially when those people are famous and important. In fact, we often take a measure of delight in the failings and fallings of our leaders and celebrities because that makes us look and feel more righteous.


III. The story of two debtors Luke 7:41-43

1. Luke 7:40 says that Jesus answered the man. Interesting, because the man hadn’t said anything. He just thought it. Jesus heard his thoughts and replied with a parable about two men who borrowed money they couldn’t pay back.


2. Borrower #1 owed 50 denarii. Since a denarius was about a typical day’s wage, he owed two month’s gross income to the moneylender. For most people that’s a lot of money. How much would that be for you?

(Keep in mind that he probably borrowed the money because he didn’t have any money. Now he still doesn’t have any money and he owes two month’s income. He’s really in a hole that he probably can’t get out of.).

In those days, debtors were often beaten and imprisoned. In fact, imprisonment for debt was and is such a common practice around the world that the United States constitution forbids such imprisonment. Our alternative in bankruptcy. There are currently almost 2 million personal bankruptcies per year in America - - - in Jesus’ day they would all have been beaten and sent to jail.

Also, imprisonment didn’t pay the debt. You were left in jail until the debt was paid. This took a debtor from bad to worse. The assumption was that his family or friends would pay up to get him out.


3. Borrower #2 owed 500 denarii. That was at least 20 months income. Not only was Borrower #2 deeper in debt, he was deeper in trouble. The chances of a relative or friend getting him out of jail was little or none. He would likely be imprisoned or enslaved for the rest of his life.


4. In Jesus’ parable the lender did something that no one had probably witnessed in real life. It was fiction. It was so unlikely and farfetched that Jesus had to make it up. The lender canceled both their debts. They were debt free from then on and absolutely free. They must have been two very happy former borrowers!


5. The parable led up to a question for Jesus’ host: "Now which of them will love him more?" The host didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to answer this question. It was obvious: "the one who had the bigger debt canceled." The less forgiven the less the gratitude and love. The more forgiven, the more the gratitude and love.

One of the most memorable experiences of my teenage years happened one Sunday afternoon. My father had a magnificent new red Chevrolet convertible. I had a little Volkswagen Beetle. My Dad let me drive his car to a friend’s house. I took a back way down a twisting rock-lined mountainous road. The speed limit was 45 mph but a friend told me it’s impossible to maintain 45 mph on that road and stay in the right lane. I knew I could do it. I was wrong. My friend was right. Going around the curve I crossed the line just when another car was coming up the mountain. I took out the side of that car from headlight to taillight. I smashed up the front of my father’s car so it couldn’t be driven. The police came. I called home. My father came immediately in the VW. He told me to go on to my friend’s house in the Volkswagen and he would deal with the police and the car. He never mentioned the accident to me again. Years later I found out that his insurance rates doubled for the next three years because of me. He never asked for the money. He never told me the cost. I was grateful. I am grateful.

The less forgiven the less the gratitude and love. The more forgiven the more the gratitude and love.


IV. The significance of forgiveness Luke 7:44-50

1. But Jesus was talking about something far greater than smashed up cars or bankrupting debts. He was talking about sins of the soul and forgiveness from God.

2. Jesus reminded his host that he hadn’t treated Jesus very well. He didn’t give Jesus water for his feet, a kiss of greeting or a little olive oil for his head. Why not? Because he didn’t think he needed to be forgiven. Because he never sought nor received great forgiveness from God.


3. The woman gave Jesus the best she had. She loved Jesus! She was devoted to him. She didn’t care what anyone else thought. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. She gave him her most precious and valuable possession. All because her great sins had been forgiven.


4. The rest of the guests were stunned by all that happened. They asked the right question: "Who is this who even forgives sins?" The answer was obvious. Only God can forgive sins. God had come to dinner that night. God had forgiven her sins. God had received her love and devotion. God had come to earth to save sinners. His name is Jesus.



1. But let’s bring this story into our story. What do you think of Jesus? What do you give to Jesus? How do you feel about Jesus?


2. If you love him so much that sometimes you lose control . . . .

If you love him so much that sometimes it seems as if there is no one else in your life but

Jesus . . . .

If you want to give to him your most precious possessions . . . .

You must have received great forgiveness and you know it.

3. If you are more like the host . . . well, don’t be like the host. Let us all admit our sin,

accept Jesus’ forgiveness, and love him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, possessions and

everything else.



9/20/98 Wooddale Church, ęCopyright, Leith Anderson.

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