Faith saves. 7:36-50


he passage before us is a very beautiful one. As well as identifying the one who is the source of forgiveness, it illustrates, in the loving act of a prostitute, the profound truth that a person who has experienced great forgiveness responds in great love.

The passage

v36-38. The scene is very typical of a Sabbath meal following a morning synagogue service. The visiting speaker, in this case Jesus, is invited to lunch at the home of one of the key religious members of the community. The meal would be served on the patio (verandah) with uninvited village locals gathering beside the patio to hear anything the important guest had to say. The poor and outcast could also be present and would be allowed to eat anything that remained. The woman is described as an "evil liver" ("a sinner"), probably a prostitute. While Jesus reclined at the table she wiped his feet with her tears and hair and anointed them with perfume. Tradition has it that she was Mary Magdalene, but there is no evidence to support this view.

v39. Simon, a Pharisee, concludes that Jesus can't be a prophet because he has inadvertently allowed this unclean woman to touch him. Of course, what follows shows that Jesus does know who she is and is therefore, at least a prophet.

v40-43. Jesus then relates a teaching parable to Simon. This woman is no longer the person Simon once knew. She has been forgiven much and therefore loves much. We are not told how she came to understand the offer of forgiveness in Christ. All we can say is that she has obviously heard the gospel, responded to it, and now she is overflowing with gratitude.

v44-46. Jesus compares the devotion of the woman to that of the churchman. Simon didn't wash Jesus' feet on entering his home; such was actually an insult. He did not greet Jesus with the kiss of peace; another insult. He didn't touch Jesus' hair with olive oil to tidy him up for the meal; again, another insult. The woman did all these things, but with Jesus' feet. Such love!

v47. The NIV translation implies that love is the ground of forgiveness - because of her great love she was forgiven. This is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament - a salvation by works approach. The TNIV corrects the problem: "I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - as her great love has shown." Look, says Jesus, she's a different person, a person washed with the mercy of God.

v48. Jesus confirms her present state in the words "your sins are forgiven", and in doing so, declares to all present his authority to forgive sins. Jesus' words are probably intended for the wider audience.



v49. The official guests are startled by the statement, but their reaction is not presented in a negative light. "Who indeed is this who takes upon himself the authority to forgive sins?"

v50. Jesus goes on to underline the basis of her forgiveness and confirm it for her. "Your faith has saved you." She accepted God's offer of forgiveness in Christ (she believed in / had faith in / relied on, the offer) and thus was forgiven and saved.

The grace of God in Christ

The two great Christian doctrines of justification and sanctification are encapsulated in this story. It is from such stories that Paul the apostle developed his theology. Paul is the inspired exegete of Jesus, that is, he expounds Jesus' teachings, developing and systematizing the theology of Jesus.

The woman in our story was justified; it was just as if she had never sinned. She was certainly a sinner, but she put her trust in the gracious offer of forgiveness provided in the person of Jesus. She believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins and for her ultimate salvation. She was justified by grace through faith.

My son Paul, who died of a brain tumor when he was only 25 years old, was a typical larrikin. He drifted away from the church when he was 14, but all the stories about Jesus were still part of his psyche. If he were to have lived to old age he might have just continued to drift until hardened by life. Yet, in his last year he had to face the inevitability of an early death. Like that prostitute long ago he was able to rest on the free gift of God's forgiveness and eternal acceptance. Such grace!

We also see in the woman's affection toward Jesus something of the operation of sanctification. Sanctification is a state of holiness, which, in the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize in our daily life, albeit, always imperfectly. She loved much because she was forgiven much. She was no longer the same woman, and this because of the grace of God active in her life, a grace which she appropriated through faith. She was being renewed by the indwelling Christ and so she just flowed with his love.

So there it is, a faith that saves and renews. May we be transformed by such a faith.


Did God's grace, active in the woman's life, motivate her behavior or empower her behavior? Discuss.

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