The Woman in the Pharisee's House

Luke 7:36‑50  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
UK 7:36-50{The solution of all our difficulties in the study of Scripture, and of every enigma in the ways of God, and certainly the remedy for every practical trial of our hearts, is to be found in the knowledge of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, when examined, the groundwork of every error will be found to lie in ignorance of the same.
But He must be studied where He is revealed. When God would make Himself known, He does so in living act, and not in abstract definition. When He would manifest His power, it is not by the declaration of His omnipotence, but by the creation of the world. His wisdom, too, He displays in the ordering, and control, and sustainment of all things, which, by His power, He has caused to exist. His long-suffering patience He shows in the history of the waywardness and provocations of a nation whom He had brought into special connection with Himself. His love, too, finds its adequate illustration alone in His having given up His only Son to death for creatures that were in rebellion against Himself.
Thus must the person of the Lord Jesus Christ be studied, For all that He appeared to be, all that He did, and all that He said; His every word and act and way, in His recorded history, go to make up the sum of what He is.
The histories of Scripture, we must always remember, are recorded facts. They may have their significance typical character, or spiritual instruction, but they are still recorded facts. There is divine wisdom in recording some and omitting others, and the fruitful study of the Scripture consists in the discernment of this, and not in spiritualizing the divine word. There is a reason why those facts which are recorded in the gospels are left for our instruction, and others are suppressed. " If they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." There is a reason, too, why the facts that are recorded are given in their specific order, and why they are varied in the record of the four gospels, the discernment of which, and not writing " harmonies," enters essentially into the unfolding of the character of Him who is their blessed subject.
It is infinitely important for me as a sinner to know what He has wrought; but as a saved person by His grace, my heart cannot find its rest except in knowing what He is: however intimately the two may be blended, and never to be disjoined. I want, as the apostle says, I want " to know him." But blessed be God, it is a study for eternity, as it is the only lesson worth learning in time.
Now in this scene in the Pharisee's house —infinitely touching as it is, in these throbbings of a human heart, and in the unvailing of His who is divine—I think I see a practical truth unfolded, which it is of the last importance we should learn. It is this the affections must be filled with Christ in order to the manifestation of that bearing and respect toward Him which is appropriate and due.
It is plain the Pharisee, by his invitation to our Lord, intended to do Him honor, but he egregiously failed. It is as plain, too, that the woman had no such thought in her approach to Him, but only sought to reach unnoticed the object of her affections, and thus she reached the acme of that which was appropriate in her bearing towards Him in the presence of others and of Himself.
" One of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him," and our Lord accepts his invitation. But there was another person of very different character and pretensions, who had watched the movements of this mysterious Stranger, and was drawn to where He was. " And behold a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him," etc. The woman was a sinner, not in the common application of the term only, but she was known as a person without character in the city, and an outcast from society.
We have no means of knowing what opportunity this woman had possessed of becoming acquainted with the character and teaching of the Lord, nor is it important for us to know. It is plain that she had marked His course and His communications, and had felt her heart irresistibly drawn to His presence. It was perhaps to herself an unexplained and undefined impulse that made her seek to be near Him and to feel that happiness was where He was. In reality it was the drawing of grace working in the instinctive yearnings of a heart desolated by sin that drew her to His feet, because for the first time in her life she had found one in whose goodness she felt she could implicitly confide, in spite of what she was. How mysterious are these cords of love! How out of place, in Christ's presence, is the soul that knows not their attractive force!
But this woman, on whom the eye cannot choose but rest, now that she has reached His presence, has no petition to prefer, no request to make. There is no cry of agony breaking from her lips. No " Lord, help me" uttered with half-convulsive energy. But in silent unobtrusiveness she stands at His feet, or bends down to kiss them, as her heart in its fullest tides is gushing forth without restraint. In utter absorption of feeling she is engaged in giving expression, as best she may, to the estimation she had of the object whose worth had so utterly captivated every affection of her soul. She is dead to everything that at the moment is passing around her. The order of the Pharisee's house is lost upon her. Neither his hospitalities nor his guests have, any power for an instant to attract her eye. How could they? She had not a thought nor a look to throw away upon any object in the wide world, but on Him whose mysterious goodness had won her heart.
One does not like to turn away from the movements of a heart which one feels are so right, so suited to what the Lord Jesus is, and to be occupied with the man who is coldly speculating on the character of his guest, and pondering whether after all he had not been showing Him too much respect in inviting Him to his house. " This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner." It was a startling interruption of his reverie to hear his thoughts answered by Jesus, saying, " Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee." His attention is demanded in a way that he cannot escape. There is nothing left for him but to hear the communication that had been so ominously commenced; and by the parable of the two debtors, he is so held to the point, that not only he is made to feel that he is in the presence of one who was, indeed, " a prophet," but to pronounce a verdict that laid the ground for his own condemnation and the vindication of the woman whom, from his ignorance of the workings of grace and of the person of the Lord, he had so abundantly despised.
" But wisdom is justified of all her children!" And what exquisiteness of grace is there in the way the Lord Jesus receives and expounds the action of this woman, who had thus proved herself to be one of wisdom's children! Far enough is His heart from any estimation of the respectable but cold formalities with which, like the Pharisee, we too often seek to give Him entertainment. " He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment."
But what is there, let me ask, in all this which so meets the heart of the Lord Jesus, and so commends itself to the heart that has any just estimate of His transcendent worth? Is there anything in it but the simplest working of love, which proximity to the Lord Jesus has put in action? It is not doctrinal clearness surely; nor is it the certainty of spiritual intelligence. It is simply and alone the instinctive working of love, love wrought in the soul by living contact with the " grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ." Moreover, it is love expressing itself in unaffected naturalness. But it is alone when love possesses the heart that it may be allowed thus to take its own way, and then how true and how perfect will be that way! It is heaven's pathway, and not the way of nature or of earth.
It is not far for the heart, where Christ's presence is supreme, to fetch these tokens of honor and regard. The washing of the feet, the kiss of welcome, the anointing oil, these marks of respect were not supplied by the courtesies of Simon, nor by the arrangements of his house. They are drawn forth only from the love that has now found its home in this poor sinner's heart; " for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."
Simon may coldly wonder at the intercourse between this sinner and the Lord, and the lookers-on may murmur at his declaration: " Wherefore I say to thee, her sins which are many are forgiven;" but it only serves to bring out to them more fully her vindication by the Lord—for it was but the vindication of His own grace—and to herself, the wondrous ground on which she now stands before God. " And lie said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace!"
Before, when she entered the Pharisee's house, she had no eye nor regard for anything around her but the person of the Lord; for it was no place for such as she, if He had not been there. And now she is leaving, think you has she any ear or care for the voices of complaint that may be uttered around her? None—none at all. She is deaf to everything but these accents of grace that are reverberating in her soul" Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
And what are all the discussions of men, or the clamors of those who object, to the soul that is near enough to Christ to be occupied with His excellency alone, and that has heard His voice—the voice of Him that is judge of quick and dead—saying, " Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace"?
And if I look at this woman, thus absorbed with Christ in the house of a formal Pharisee, I see a picture of what the heart should be occupied with of those who seek to worship the Lord in the midst of the formal profession around them, and which is no better than the order of this Pharisee's house. It is not that this formalism should be before the thoughts, much less that it should give its tone or color to aught that is transacted in His presence, which alone is the sanction and the power of separation. Occupation of the heart with Christ not only draws His blessed eye and sanction, but it gives the true character of nothingness to everything that pretends to honor Him; where His grace is unknown, and the heart consequently is its own center of action.