36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears andwiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:36-50
Normally when we think of people in need of God’s rescuing grace, we think of the unrighteous and the immoral. But what’s fascinating to me is that throughout the Bible, it’s the immoral person who understands the gospel before the moral person. It’s the prostitute who understands grace; it’s the Pharisee who doesn’t.
What we see in Luke 7:36–50 is that God’s grace wrecks, and then rescues, not only the promiscuous but the pious. The Pharisee in this story can’t understand what Jesus is doing by allowing this woman to touch him, because he assumes that God is for the clean and competent. But Jesus here shows him that God is for the unclean and incompetent and when measured against God’s perfect holiness, we’re all unclean and incompetent. Jesus shows him that the gospel isn’t for the well behaved, but the dead.
Jesus came not to effect a moral reformation but a mortal resurrection. As Gerhard Forde put it, “Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”
Wrecking every religious category the Pharisee had, Jesus tells him that he has a lot to learn from the prostitute, not the other way around.
The prostitute walks into a party of religious people and falls at the feet of Jesus without any care as to what others are thinking and saying. She’s at the end of herself. More than wanting to avoid an uncomfortable situation, she wanted to be clean—she needed to be forgiven. She was acutely aware of her guilt and shame. She knew she needed help. She understood at a profound level that God’s grace didn’t demand that she get clean before she came to Jesus. Rather, her only hope for getting clean was to come to Jesus.
Everywhere else in the world, loveliness precedes love. Only in the gospel does love precede loveliness.
– Tullian Tchividjian, It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News