Night has fallen. The streets are quiet. In this time and place people do not go out into the streets at night unless they have business. It is not always safe. We walk down the streets and listen to the murmur of voices from the rooftops. People have gathered on the rooftops to enjoy the cool of the evening, much as we might gather on our porch or patio. Occasionally through the tiny, barred window of a home we may see the little light of an oil lamp and someone moving back and forth.
What's that? There is someone on the street; someone there in the shadows! It's a woman! Why is she here alone on the streets at night? We no more ask the question than we know the answer. We have seen her kind in our own time and place and we know why she is here. We hurry on.
We move into a better part of town. The houses are built around courtyards. We can look through the gates into the open courtyards and see fires glowing and people gathered about them talking and eating.
As we pass through this better section of the village we begin to hear sounds louder than any we have heard from other homes. There, that's where they are coming from; from that house over there! We stop and peer through the gates. A banquet is in progress. A crowd has gathered in the courtyard. It is easy to see the head table and the guest of honor. They sit in the Roman fashion, reclining on the left elbow, their legs bent at the knees, their feet behind them.
Suddenly someone brushes past us at the gate and goes into the courtyard. Who is this party-crasher? We recognize her. It's the woman we saw moments before on the street. What's she doing here?
Carefully she makes her way around the crowd so as to be unobserved. She comes up behind the head table. She comes up behind the guest of honor. What can she be doing? She is opening up a bottle of perfume and pouring it on His feet. And then she weeps uncontrollably, washing His feet with her tears.
That's the dramatic story that the Bible tells 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.We are certain that she did go in peace. That night she experienced the only peace that she had known for years - the peace of knowing that sins are forgiven.
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." (NIV)
We can identify with her because we too are sinners. All of us have sinned and come short. They criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Let me ask you, who else was there with whom He might eat? If He didn't eat with sinners, He would eat with no one. All of us are sinners. We identify with her.
Our sins are different than hers. They are less scandalous, less public. We like to divide sin into big sins and little sins, as our Catholic neighbors divide them into mortal sins and venial sins and as the law divides them into felonies and misdemeanors. So we like to divide them into crimes and little peccadillos. Of course it is easy to tell the big sins from the little sins. My sins are the little sins and your sins are the big sins. But the Bible knows no such distinctions. It refuses to grade or categorize sins. It simply puts them all together and labels us all as sinners.
Because she was a sinner she had felt shut out by life. When you think about it, the one person in society who never has a friend is a prostitute. She may have enemies - the law. She may have clients. She may have competitors in other prostitutes. But she never has a friend.
Perhaps for different reasons, you too have felt shut out by life. You have felt a sense of loneliness. You have felt that you somehow did not belong. Jesus comes to say to you as He said to her, "You do belong."
We can identify with her because we too are often troubled by conscience.
We're on a collision course in life. Good and evil, light and darkness, Heaven and Hell are all on a collision course. You and I are caught in the middle. We experience, as she did, the pangs of conscience. That's what brought forth her tears. She wept out of a deep, deep sense of regret. She wished that she was not the person that she was. She had never intended to be what she was. She had drifted into this life. She had had other plans for herself. She had never imagined that she would find herself in this position. One day she woke up and said, "How did I get to be where I am today? Is there any way to get out of the position I'm in today?" And deep regret swept over her. It was tears of regret that she shed at the feet of Jesus.
Repentance does not just look back and say, "I'm sorry." It also looks ahead at the possibilities of the future and says, "Wow!" We need to bring that "Wow" element into repentance. Repentance is more than being sorry for our sins. Repentance is seeing what it is possible for us to be and saying, "That's what I'm going to be. That's what God by His power is going to make of me." Repentance looks ahead as well as back.
Then you will notice that she is determined to get to Jesus. She broke every rule of etiquette. She broke all the rules of society. She crashed the party. She knew that they would throw her out, but she was determined to get to Jesus.
That reminds us of another woman who had a disease that the Bible calls an "issue of blood." They regarded that as ceremonially unclean. She was not allowed to go out into the company of other people. Yet she pushed through the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus, garment, breaking the customs and mores of her time in order that she might get to Jesus.
Zacchaeus, the tax collector at Jericho, climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. How undignified for a man in his position to do that! But he did it! He was determined to get to Jesus.
We need to have this same kind of determination. If you know anything about sports, you know that often the key to success is determination. In every area of sports you will find someone talented and gifted, but who lacks the will to win. You will find another with less talent who is determined to succeed and does.
Then we see in her an impulse to worship. Certainly, we need structured time to worship. We need places set aside to worship. We need to have a time to pray. We need to come to church at times of worship. We need to take the advantage that is offered to us in a sanctuary that is well-planned for worship, with beautiful music and beautiful surroundings.
But there also must be a spontaneous element to worship. There are times when you just feel like praying, when you feel like praising God. When you feel that impulse, you ought to respond to it.
Perhaps you are sitting at home and it comes into your mind to praise God. You may praise Him in your heart. Perhaps you are driving down the highway and you feel an impulse to pray. I suggest that on such occasions you should not close your eyes! You may not even want to pray or praise aloud, but in your heart you can respond to that impulse to worship.
If we may identify with the party-crasher in this scene, we may also identify with the guests. They were frustrated by the interruption. A minister spoke once of how he planned his day carefully so that he could make the best possible use of his time. He wanted to do a good job. There were so many demands on his time. He planned his day very carefully. Then it was all spoiled by interruptions. Another, wiser minister said, "Those are not interruptions. They are unexpected opportunities." What the guests saw as an interruption, they should have seen as an unexpected opportunity.
Some of them, I'm sure, were totally indifferent to the woman who came in from the street. Their plan was to ignore her. "If you pay no attention to her, after a while she'll get discouraged and she'll leave us alone. Just pay no attention to her." That's a temptation that comes to us in life; to ignore people who need Christ, to ignore the cries of a needy world!
Others were ashamed. They wanted to put their best foot forward for Jesus. This was not the best representation of their city. This was not the kind of person they wanted to be in the welcoming party for Jesus. They were terribly embarrassed that she was there.
Some of them were angry. They didn't want to share Jesus with her. They wanted to monopolize His time and they wanted His undivided attention. In their preteen years young people are often very possessive of their friends. They don't want their friend to be the friend of anybody else. That's their special friend. Teenagers outgrow that. But sometimes we really don't want to share Jesus with the world. We're troubled when visitors come in and take our favorite seat. We're troubled that great crowds come on special days and we can't get a convenient parking place. We really don't always want to share Jesus with those who need Him. We're angry when we must.
Undoubtedly there were some like Judas. He remarked on another occasion when a different woman had done a similar thing, "What a waste! That ointment ought to have been sold and the money given to the poor." Sometimes when one goes into a great church or cathedral, one hears that statement. "This beautiful house of worship should not have been built. The money should have been given to the poor." It's good to remember who said that first. It was Judas Iscariot.
No one believes in waste or needless extravagance. Yet one might feed the poor today and they will be hungry again tomorrow. Or one might build a great place of worship that nourishes the soul.
That surely is as important as nourishing the body. A great cathedral that will inspire men for a hundred years is not always a bad investment of God's money.
Certainly there were those who thought Jesus ought not waste His time on a woman like this. They thought she was hopeless and incorrigible. Once there was a scorpion who wanted to get across a river. He said to the turtle, "You're a very good swimmer. Let me hop up on the back of your shell and you can carry me across the river." The turtle said, "No, if I carry you across the river, you will sting me and I will die." The scorpion said to the turtle, "That's not logical. If I sting you and you die, I'll drown too." "All right," the turtle said, "You hop on the back of my shell and I will carry you across the river." But halfway across the scorpion stung the turtle anyway and they both began to sink to the bottom. As they were drowning, the turtle said, "That wasn't logical. Why did you do that?" The scorpion said, "I guess it's just my nature."
Some people look at sinners and say, "That's just their nature. They won't change. They'll always be the same. They'll never be different." Jesus believed that people change.
So, we want to identify with Jesus, not with the woman who crashed the party and not with the guests in their varied reactions. Let us try to identify with Jesus. Jesus assumed the best motive.
I read this interesting statement: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" So many times we assume the worst motive.
Jesus had an advantage over us because He could read peoples' hearts. Yet He always looked for the best. He always assumed the best. It would have been possible to assume that this woman was coming in looking for customers. One might have assumed that she was making some kind of improper sexual advances to Jesus. There may have been those among the guests who assumed that. But Jesus always assumed the best motives.
You and I ought to do that. It is not naivete that calls us to do that. It is Christian love and charity.
Then Jesus saw the hidden potential! Nobody believed that this woman could ever amount to anything, but Jesus knew that she could.
For years astronomers talked about a dark hole in the sky. Their telescopes detected no light, no star, no planet in that great dark hole. They thought it was empty. Then the radio telescope was developed. When the radio telescope was trained on the dark hole in the sky, it began to receive signals; signals that indicated that there was something there. It was not really empty after all.
We look at lives and say they are empty. There is no virtue, there is no goodness there. There is no spark of the image of God left within them. But Jesus looks at those same people and sees what they can be. He knows that they have the potential to be great spiritual leaders. He turns sinners into saints and criminals into servants in His kingdom.
It is said that Thomas Edison had worked hour upon hour upon hour to perfect the world's first incandescent light bulb. Then he called his office boy upstairs to the workroom and said, "Now take this bulb downstairs. We will attach it to the electric current and we will have light." As the boy went down the stairs, Edison heard a crash. The world's only electric light bulb had been broken. So he set to work. After hours and hours of painstaking effort, he created the world's second incandescent light bulb. Then he called that same office boy. He said, "Take this bulb downstairs and when we have attached it to the current, we will have light."
I don't know if that story is true or not. It doesn't matter whether or not Thomas Alva Edison gave a boy a second chance. It does matter that God always gives us another chance, another opportunity. As long as there is breath within us, we have that opportunity. Jesus sees the hidden potential and reaches out to us because He wants us to reach that potential in life.
Stuart Hamblen was a down-on-his-luck singer in Hollywood. Because his career was not going well, he turned to drink and he became an alcoholic. He had almost wasted his life in alcoholism when Billy Graham came to Los Angeles for his great crusade. Stuart Hamblen went. He listened. He responded. He became a Christian. About a month later, a friend said to Stuart Hamblen, "Is it true that you have not had a drink for thirty days?" Stuart Hamblen said, "Yes, That's true. It's no secret what God can do." The friend said, "You ought to tell other people the story of what has happened. You ought to write a song about it." He did.
It is no secret what God can do.
What he's done for others, he'll do for you.
With arms wide open, he'll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.