Why do we gather every Sunday morning? Is it to learn about God? Well, yes, partially. Is it to fellowship? Yes, but that’s not the only thing. Do we gather because God commands us to? Yes, but hopefully we won’t come every single Sunday with long faces and grit our teeth obedience.
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” ~Matthew 18:20
We gather together and we call this gathering church. And the reason for this gathering is to be a place where we can meet Jesus.
Matthew doesn’t say where each believer prays, there am I with them, although he does hears our prayers. There is something special that occurs where two or three are gathered. According to this verse, it is a guarantee that Jesus will be with us. And that is why we gather. It’s more than obedience to a commandment. It’s more than mere fellowship. It’s more than knowledge acquisition. We gather mainly because we are inviting Jesus to dwell among us and to lead us and to fellowship with us so that we can meet him personally and corporately.
This is our starting point — where two or three are gathered, this is church and we are gathered here to meet Jesus. If this is our starting point, then our attitude regarding church reflects our overall attitude of meeting Jesus. Make sense? Meaning if Jesus appeared in the flesh right at this moment on this stage, how would we respond? Think about that.
I want to share a passage that describes two very distinct responses to Jesus.
Read Luke 7:36-50.
There are 2 very different responses to Jesus recorded in this account.
The first one is that of Simon the Pharisee and the second one is that of an anonymous woman with a sinful past.
I want to start by pointing out that the focal point of this story is Simon. How do we know this? First of all, Simon is the one who invited Jesus to his house. Second, most of the verses are a discussion between Jesus and Simon.
Usually, when I hear a sermon from this text, I’ve heard a lot about the sinful woman. But if you read this section carefully, Jesus doesn’t even address the sinful woman until the last 3 verses.
Who is Simon? He’s a pharisee. He’s a pastor, a teacher, one who preaches. He’s someone like me. We could also consider him a rather religious person. He goes to the temple regularly and follows religious laws. He’s a churchgoer. He’s like all of us.
By having Simon as the focal point of this story, this means Jesus has a message for most of us in this room because I’d say as a group, we are pretty religious. And if we believe that Jesus is here today in our midst, then Jesus is speaking this message personally, directly, to each one of us.
Simon invited Jesus to his house. We don’t know his intentions because the precise reasons are not given in Scripture. However, we know it was common in those days to schedule meetings between 2 religious leaders. They’d meet to have a public debate to show off their knowledge and to increase their popularity in their community. Maybe Simon wanted to have a theological debate with Jesus. Maybe he wanted to test him and trap him with a trick question about Sabbath work or fasting. We don’t know.
How about the sinful woman? The sinful woman was not respectable like Simon. She had a reputation in the town for having lived a sinful life. She’s probably a prostitute. I’d guess that she’s not as educated or well-versed in religious laws as Simon. In fact, she is acutely aware, as is everyone else in the room, how she is guilty of breaking most of the religious laws.
And she’s doing what she can to make a living. She has a certain amount of responsibility because she’s able to save money as shown by her alabaster jar of perfume. Women in those days would save their money and buy perfume in preparation for their wedding day. This means that she is not blowing all of her money in wild living. Instead, she is saving money because perhaps she hopes to stop her sinful lifestyle one day and get married.
The last place that a woman like this should be is a Pharisee’s house. The woman learned that Jesus was going to be at Simon’s house and we don’t know much more than that as to why she came. But as soon as she arrives, it becomes evident right away what she came to do. To give Jesus a proper anointing in preparation for his imminent death on the cross.
If you can imagine the scene — a bunch of respectable religious leaders and members of the community are gathered in Simon’s living room ready to hear a lively debate between 2 prominent rabbis, and out of nowhere, this totally irreligious woman enters. People must have gasped, what is she doing here? Doesn’t she know whose house this is? Doesn’t she know that 2 rabbis, 2 holy men, are about to engage in religious debate and that people like her are not welcome?
The woman doesn’t care about anyone else in the room. She sees Jesus and only Jesus. She bends down. She weeps. She wets Jesus’ feet with her tears. And she takes her alabaster jar, her life savings, her ticket off the streets and into a new life of respectability through marriage. And she pours out her alabaster jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with his hair.
A couple of drops of perfume are strong enough to create a 2 foot bubble of aromatics around a woman. Imagine an entire bottle. The aroma literally must have filled the room.
To everyone in the audience, this woman is totally losing it. What is she doing? Why is she wasting her life savings? She is crying. She probably has snot bubbles coming out of her nose. Her hair is drenched with perfume. She is utterly humiliating herself. You can almost hear whispers of shock and judgement and disgust rippling through the audience.
But Jesus receives this woman’s act of worship and surrender. How do we know this? Well, interestingly, he doesn’t immediately address the woman. You would think if a woman did this kind of extravagant act of love and humility in front of everyone, Jesus would have recognized this woman. And said something like, Woman, yes, your faith has saved you, you got it right, Amen! Instead of addressing the woman, Jesus ignores her and his focus shifts toward Simon.
This is evidence that though the woman appears to be on center stage, she is not the focal point of this story. Rather, this woman serves as an object lesson for Simon — and taking what this woman just did, Jesus is able to point out to Simon, in striking contrast, what he didn’t do.
Jesus addresses Simon first by sharing a parable about 2 debtors. They were both forgiven debts but one was forgiven a debt of 50 denarii and the other was forgiven a debt of 500 denarii. And Jesus presents Simon, the scholar, an insultingly simple question — which debtor will love the moneylender more? Simon answers, the 500 denarii debtor.
And with that answer, Jesus begins to contrast what the sinful woman just did and what Simon didn’t do.