(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

This is a very powerful passage that still retains the power to disturb believers. I remember preaching on this portion of Scripture several years ago at a women's meeting. After the service a young American lady came up to me and said, "That was a real sleazy sermon." I have never, either before or since, been accused of preaching a sleazy sermon! The American did not like the idea of a prostitute caressing the feet of Jesus. She found it very distasteful in spite of being a Christian herself.

(A) Four questions about Simon the Pharisee

(1) Why did Simon invite Jesus to dinner?

Simon's attitude to Jesus is rather ambivalent. He does address him as, 'Teacher', which showed some respect but on the other hand he did not exactly welcome Jesus with open arms. It seems likely that Simon asked Jesus to dinner in order to give him the 'once over'. He was acting a bit like anxious parents who entertain their daughter's boyfriend to a meal in order to assess his suitability as a prospective son-in-law. Simon may have invited like-minded Pharisees so that together they could question and appraise Jesus during the course of a meal.

We are given the impression today that our opinion counts! There are increasing numbers of TV competitions where the viewing audience decides the winner. The media invite people to give their opinion on a wide range of topics. The majority of folk are quite willing to give their opinion of celebrities in the public eye.

I can remember some years ago sitting in my room waiting the arrival of Timothy W. to do his detention. He didn't turn up and I began to mutter about him. One of the girls sitting on a nearby desk turned and said, "Oh don't go on Mr Reed. I love Timothy W." Now, although the girl had a high opinion of Timothy W. it did not alter the fact that he was both lazy and devious. She allowed bias to cloud her judgment. We can fall into the same trap and think that our opinion determines whether someone is worthy or unworthy.

I can also recall teaching, without much success, a small boy with a big mouth. I said to him once: "Andy, Mrs M. says you are not working very hard in her lessons," to which he replied, "Mrs M. is a rubbish teacher." Andy C. was quite willing to pass judgement on his teachers but was completely unabashed by what they thought of him.

Simon the Pharisee considered, along with Nicodemus, that his opinion was important in establishing the credentials of Jesus. We know how Jesus responded to this attitude in the case of Nicodemus. See my exposition on: John3v1to12 What should have concerned Simon was Jesus' opinion of him! It could not be plainer that Simon cared little for this. He did not even bother to welcome Jesus with traditional courteousy!

Innumerable people in the West fall into the same trap as Simon. They do not realise that what matters is not their opinion of Jesus, but Jesus' opinion of them. Jesus is the one sitting at the right hand of God who will one day return to this world in glory and power to judge the quick and the dead.

            At the name of Jesus
            Every knee shall bow,
            Every tongue confess Him
            King of glory now.

(2) Why was Simon discourteous?

When I welcome invited guests into my home there are three things I usually do: shake hands or kiss them, show them where the bathroom is and offer them a drink - tea or something stronger. These are what we call common courteousies.

In Christ's day and age guests were received with a kiss, given a bowl of water with which to wash the dust off their feet and a little perfumed oil for their hair. Simon did not extend any of these customary courteousies to Jesus. Why was that? I can only suppose that Simon was so busy welcoming his really important guests - his friends and fellow Pharisees - that Jesus was overlooked. The Saviour did not rank highly among those Simon esteemed and wished to impress.

Sadly Jesus still does not get much consideration from busy, influential, important and respectable people. He is the least of their concerns. Even Christians attending church can be so preoccupied with one another that they forget that they are there to meet with Jesus. Sometimes my mother was unable to accompany my father to a church service. She would always ask who was there when he returned home. My father would recite a list of names: Mrs Arthur, Dick Clarke, old Mr Vincent, Ernie, Arka and Jerky, Mr Cawston, poor old Len, Albert and Kath ...... and so on. But there was one name he always forgot ..... . Jesus promised: "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Mt18v20.

I have got to that age where I attend ruby, golden and even diamond wedding anniversaries. It makes a huge difference to the celebration if Jesus is an honoured guest. I recently attended the diamond-wedding anniversary of my friends Edward and Dorothy. The function ended with a short service of thanksgiving - where Jesus Christ was praised - it made all the difference!

(3) Why did Simon conclude that Jesus was no prophet?

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."

It is interesting that Simon knew this woman! It is to his credit that she wasn't debarred from his house. He doesn't object to the conduct of the woman as such or to the fact that Jesus accepts it. In this respect he is better than the disciples who muttered when Mary the sister of Lazarus anointed him with precious ointment. Simon couldn't believe that Jesus would accept the caresses of a prostitute in public and so he concluded his power as a prophet with supernatural abilities was much exaggerated. Why, Jesus couldn't even discern a prostitute from decent, god-fearing woman!

I am not surprised that Simon was shocked and appalled by the sight of a prostitute washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and kissing those feet before pouring expensive perfume over them. (The woman was obviously a high-class prostitute - perhaps, that is why Simon knew of her!) I think the vast majority of Christians would be very uncomfortable about a converted prostitute kissing the bare feet of their pastor at a church social.

Simon the Pharisee was seriously at fault because he believed God was only interested in good people - like him. A true prophet of God would converse with other good people - not hold court with brazen sinners like the prostitute. Simon was not happy with the company Jesus kept.

Lots of people are still put off Christianity by the company Jesus keeps! I used to enjoy the lunch break when I was a schoolteacher because it gave me the opportunity for lots of informal chats with my pupils. On one occasion I was asked if I attended church. I happily admitted to doing so whereupon Grant S. said scornfully and with a look of disgust upon his face, "Ugh! Only old fogies go to church." Grant wasn't going to associate with old fogies even if Jesus did! I could have told Grant - because unlike him I actually know lots of people who attend church - that not only the old are there but the simple, the unglamorous, the silly and the feckless, the weak, inadequate and gullible, the immature and the downright peculiar.

It is very foolish to have high expectations of the man in the pew. I find myself occasionally falling into this trap. After I had listened to a very ordinary message recently - the preacher just repeated an Old Testament story - one of our congregation came up to me and said, "That is the best sermon I have ever heard." But why should I be shocked at this? Jesus did not come to call the intelligent or highly educated to be Christians. He did not even come to call the righteous - as Simon the Pharisee supposed - but sinners to repentance. If the only qualifications for God's church are repentance of sin and belief in Jesus then we must expect to find a strange assortment there.

(4) What was Simon's main weakness

I have already hinted at this. Simon was both pleased with himself as he was and thought God must be too. He was only a small debtor! He had kept the law and as a consequence done very little wrong. He was hardly in need of forgiveness at all - and anyway the sacrifices he made would cover any sins he was unaware of. Simon was not going to be very interested in the ministry of Jesus. He hardly needed a saviour because in his own eyes he was scarcely a sinner.

Jesus dealt with this attitude in his Sermon on the Mount. Part of that discourse is heavy with irony. He tells his audience that if they want to be like the Pharisees and please God by their conduct it is not enough to abstain from murder, they mustn't even be angry with their brother; it is not enough to abstain from adultery they mustn't even look at a woman with lust.

The trouble is, Simon and those like him, do not realise how bad they are. Many years ago I watched a TV program about a group of plastic surgeons who went to Sri Lanka to operate on people with harelips and cleft pallets. Huge numbers turned up to be operated on. They knew, without any doubt, that something was wrong with them. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us. We need to be aware of how ugly sin makes us and how it handicaps us. Everyone is seriously flawed in thought, word and deed. Pride, selfishness and greed deform us all.

(C) Jesus' method of dealing with Simon the Pharisee.

(1) Jesus accepted Simon's invitation.

While I was studying at the London Institute of Education a fellow student, Claudette Camrass, invited me to a party at her parent's house in Barnes. I didn't know Claudette very well and I had no idea why she wanted me to attend her party. I knew that I would be something of an outsider but I went along anyway - perhaps, because Claudette was very pretty. I remember she tried, without success, to teach me to dance!

Jesus knew that if he dined at the home of Simon the Pharisee he would be the outsider. He would be mixing with men who were suspicious of him and largely unsympathetic to his ministry. Jesus could expect to be questioned and listened to critically. The self-satisfied, self-righteous and judgemental attitude of Simon's friends would be as repugnant to Jesus as the goings on in a brothel. Nevertheless, Jesus accepted Simon's invitation and was prepared to declare the truth to an unsympathetic audience.

Christian preachers today expect compliant congregations that listen in silence to what they have to say. I think most would be very put out to be interrupted and contradicted. Church services would be improved if there was a bit more cut and thrust and the preacher subject to the sort of searching questions that Jesus and later, Paul, dealt with.

Jesus did not walk away from the house of Simon because his host was so unwelcoming. I know Christians who only attend an unwelcoming church once! There is another way! Why not attend that church and extend a warm welcome to the next visitor that drops in. I was talking to my friend Ian Brown recently about his early experiences as an itinerant preacher. There was one church he went to that had a notice on the door: 'Push hard'. You literally had to shoulder charge the door to gain entry. What a pity someone didn't join that church who was prepared to do something about the stiff door and make entry easier. That church, like so many you had to 'push hard' to get in, is closed now!

Jesus was a friend of publicans and sinners but he was also concerned about the spiritual well being of the Pharisees. He was like the father who not only welcomed the prodigal son back with open arms but also went out to the self-righteous elder brother and pleaded with him to come in and join the feast. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost - and Simon was as lost as the most notorious prostitute.

(2) Jesus established his credentials.

Simon questioned Jesus' knowledge and insight. 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." v39. It is possible that Jesus told his disciples what Simon was thinking before tackling him. Be that as it may, Jesus' confrontation with Simon clearly indicated that he knew what the Pharisee's attitude was. Simon's assumption that Jesus didn't know about the woman was a big mistake. He not only knew about her but also about Simon the Pharisee!

Jesus was an expert in human nature. John records: He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. Jn2v24. Jesus in his humanity was not an expert in everything! He did not come to this world in order to improve man's scientific understanding and medical knowledge. Nearly 1900 years passed before doctors could start to treat serious illnesses. No, Jesus came into the world for one very specific purpose - to save men from their sin. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 1Pet3v18. Jesus was an expert on human nature because this is what brought him down to earth.

(3) Jesus highlighted Simon's main problem

Jesus said to the Pharisee, "Simon, I have something to tell you." v40. These are ominous words! If Jesus addressed me from heaven and said, "John, I have something to tell you", I wonder what it would be? I am reminded of the words of the Son of Man to the church at Thyatira, "Nevertheless, I have this against you." Rev2v20. What is it that the Lord Jesus Christ has against us?

Jesus used a very short, pointed parable to show Simon where he was going wrong. The Pharisee had no sense of being in debt to God for the forgiveness of his sins. Even if Simon sacrificed for his sins every day he was still indebted to the grace of God. A sacrifice is only a token payment for sins committed. The person offering the sacrifice relies on God's grace to accept the token payment for the forgiveness of sins.

It is interesting that Jesus uses this illustration to describe our standing before God. We owe God respect, obedience and gratitude because he created us. He gives us life. Sadly we haven't given God his due. We are like wilful, rebellious and selfish teenagers who show no consideration to their parents. So we remain in debt to God with nothing to pay for years of neglect and ingratitude.

Simon was deluded because he thought he had been paying his way by keeping the rules of religion. He thought he could earn credit with God by keeping the ceremonial law. Indeed, the Pharisee probably thought God was under an obligation to reward him both in this life and the life to come. Simon had no conception of trusting to the grace of God for the forgiveness of his sins. Why, he hardly sinned at all! But of course he did - as his treatment of Jesus showed. Pride - that greatest of sins - was more evident in his life than that of the prostitute.

One of the greatest barriers to personal salvation remains pride. All of us are running up from day to day a huge unpaid debt to God. If we are too proud to acknowledge it, that debt will keep mounting to the day we die. There is only one way to be rid of our debt to God. We must ask the Lord Jesus Christ to pay it for us and to set us free.

(4) Jesus used the prostitute as an example of what repentance and forgiveness accomplished

The woman who showed such extravagant love for Jesus - almost embarrassingly so - had not been cured of leprosy. Jesus had not restored her sight, healed her husband or raised her son from the dead. The prostitute washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair because he had saved her from her sin.

I can almost hear the world's reaction to this: 'So what! No big deal. Nobody worries about sin today.' In this respect Simon the Pharisee's important guests did at least show more discrimination than the majority of people in our day and age. They said: "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

We do not know how the prostitute came to believe in Jesus. It is not difficult to imagine how she became sick of her work and disgusted with herself. Perhaps, she had been in the crowd and heard Jesus say: "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened; and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Mt11v28and29. Her testimony would be:

            I heard the voice of Jesus say,
            "Come unto Me, and rest:
            Lay down, thu weary one, lay down
            Thy head upon My breast."
            I came to Jesus as I was -
            Weary, and worn, and sad;
            I found in Him a resting-place
            And he has made me glad.

Jesus allowed the prostitute to caress him - to wash his feet and smother them with kisses - by way of acknowledging her repentance and showing that she was accepted. She knew by faith that if Jesus accepted her God would forgive her. The woman's love was great because she was aware of just how much she had been forgiven.

Our love for Jesus will depend upon on how conscious we are of how much we owe him. I realise that evangelical Christians all accept that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. However, I get the impression that quite a few have such a high opinion of themselves that they expect God's blessing. Christians can pay lip service to the saving work of Jesus and yet believe that God owes them health, wealth and happiness. God's chosen instrument - that wonderful Christian apostle, Paul, had neither health nor wealth nor on many occasions much happiness. Paul was, however, aware of how much he, the chief of sinners, had been forgiven. His aim was: To know Christ and the power of his resurrection and fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Phil3v10and11.

We cannot be truly conscious of how much we owe Jesus without being compassionate and forgiving towards those that wrong us. Jesus told a parable about a servant who was forgiven millions of pounds by his master. That same servant went out and found a man who owed him a few pounds and threw him into jail. When the master discovered what had happened he called the unforgiving servant to him and said: "You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you." Mt13v32and33. If we lack mercy we have no real conception of how much we have been forgiven and what we owe to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(5) Jesus directs Simon to the all important relationship.

Jesus contrasts the woman's relationship with him - one of devotion, service and worship - to Simon's own - one lacking common decency and courteousy. The prostitute cared about Jesus - a care born out of a sense of a great forgiveness and an intense love. Simon couldn't care less. He owed Jesus nothing and exhibited no warmth of feeling for him whatsoever.

What is the all-important relationship in life? For many teenage girls there is only one answer. I can remember Gemma M. mooning about my classroom one dinner hour. I asked her: "What's the matter with you, Gemma." Her reply was nothing if not emphatic: "I want a man!"

In extreme circumstances the most important relationship is between a man in peril and his rescuer from peril - between the cancer sufferer and his surgeon, the shipwrecked sailor and the life boatman, the injured rock climber and the mountain rescuer, the child trapped in a burning building and the fireman. Every sinner is in peril of losing his life not just in time but in eternity. No relationship is more significant than that between a sinner and his saviour. Only Jesus can save.

            Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
            There's mercy with the Lord:
            And He will surely give you rest
            By trusting in His word

            Only trust Him! only trust Him!
            Only trust Him now!
            He will save you! He will save you!
            He will save you now.

If we have been saved personally by Jesus our love for him will be in direct proportion to our conception of what it cost him to redeem us, our sense of forgiveness and experience of new life. Our willingness to forgive others will be a measure of our love for the Saviour. Simon felt no need of forgiveness and was critical, judgemental and censorious. The surest test of being a saved sinner remains the sincerity with which we pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.