Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. ~ Luke 7:47 a-d
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. ~ 1 Peter 4:8
A commentary, by John Calvin.
36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
And one of the Pharisees requested him. This narrative shows the captious disposition, not only to take, but to seek out, offenses, which was manifested by those who did not know the office of Christ. A Pharisee invites Christ; from which we infer, that he was not one of those who furiously and violently opposed, nor of those who haughtily despised his doctrine. But whatever might be his mildness, he is presently offended when he sees Christ bestow a gracious reception on a woman who, in his opinion, ought not to have been permitted to approach or to converse with him; and, accordingly, disowns him as a prophet, because he does not acknowledge him to be the Mediator, whose peculiar office it was to bring miserable sinners into a state of reconciliation with God. It was something, no doubt, to bestow on Christ the honor due to a prophet; but he ought also to have inquired for what purpose he was sent, what he brought, and what commission he had received from the Father. Overlooking the grace of reconciliation, which was the main feature to be looked for in Christ, the Pharisee concluded that he was not a prophet And, certainly, had it not been that through the grace of Christ this woman had obtained the forgiveness of her sins, and a new righteousness, she ought to have been rejected.
Simon’s mistake lies only in this: Not considering that Christ came to save what was lost, he rashly concludes that Christ does not distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy. That we may not share in this dislike, let us learn, first, that Christ was given as a Deliverer to miserable and lost men, and to restore them from death to life. Secondly, let every man examine himself and his life, and then we will not wonder that others are admitted along with us, for no one will dare to place himself above others. It is hypocrisy alone that leads men to be careless about themselves, and haughtily to despise others.
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
A woman who was a sinner The words stand literally as I have translated them,( ἥτις ἧν ἁμαζτωλὸς.) Erasmus has chosen to take the pluperfect tense, who Had Been a sinner, lest any one should suppose that at that time she still was a sinner But by so doing, he departed from the natural meaning; for Luke intended to express the place which the woman held in society, and the opinion universally entertained respecting her. Though her sudden conversion had rendered her a different person in the sight of God from what she had previously been, yet among men the disgrace attaching to her former life had not yet been effaced. She was, therefore, in the general estimation of men a sinner, that is, a woman of wicked and infamous life; and this led Simon to conclude, though erroneously, that Christ had not the Spirit of discernment, since he was unacquainted with that infamy which was generally known.
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
And Jesus answering said. By this reply Christ shows how egregiously Simon was mistaken. Exposing to public view his silent and concealed thought, he proves himself to possess something more excellent than what belonged to the Prophets; for he does not reply to his words, but refutes the sentiment which he kept hidden within his breast. Nor was it only on Simon’s account that this was done, but in order to assure every one of us, that we have no reason to fear lest any sinner be rejected by him, who not only gives them kind and friendly invitations, but is prepared with equal liberality, and—as we might say—with outstretched arms, to receive them all.
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
A certain creditor had two debtors The scope of this parable is to demonstrate, that Simon is wrong in condemning the woman who is acquitted by the heavenly judge. He proves that she is righteous, not because she pleased God, but because her sins were forgiven; for otherwise her case would not correspond to the parable, in which Christ expressly states, that the creditor freely forgave the debtors who were not able to pay. We cannot avoid wondering, therefore, that the greater part of commentators have fallen into so gross a blunder as to imagine that this woman, by her tears, and her anointing, and her kissing his feet, deserved the pardon of her sins. The argument which Christ employs was taken, not from the cause, but from the effect; for, until a favor has been received, it cannot awaken gratitude, and the cause of reciprocal love is here declared to be a free forgiveness. In a word, Christ argues from the fruits or effects that follow it, that this woman has been reconciled to God.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
And turning to the woman. The Lord appears to compare Simon with the woman, in such a manner as to make him chargeable with nothing more than light offenses. But this is spoken only in the way of concession. “Suppose now, Simon,” he says, “that the guilt from which God discharges thee was light, and that this woman has been guilty of many and very heinous offenses. Yet you see how she proves by the effect that she has obtained pardon. For what mean those profuse tears, those frequent kisses of the feet, that precious ointment? What mean they but to acknowledge, that she had been weighed down by an enormous burden of condemnation? And now she regards the mercy of God with fervor of love proportioned to her conviction that her necessity had been great.”
From the words of Christ, therefore, we are not at liberty to infer, that Simon had been a debtor to a small amount, or that he was absolved from guilt. It is more probable that, as he was a blind hypocrite, he was still plunged in the filth of his sins. But Christ insists on this single point, that, however wicked the woman may have been, she gave undoubted proofs of her righteousness, by leaving no kind of duty undone to testify her gratitude, and by acknowledging, in every possible way, her vast obligations to God. At the same time, Christ reminds Simon, that he has no right to flatter himself, as if he were free from all blame; for that he too needed mercy; and that if even he does not obtain the favor of God without pardon, he ought to look upon this woman’s gifts, whatever might have been her former sins, as evidences of repentance and gratitude.
We must attend to the points of contrast, in which the woman is preferred to Simon. She moistened his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head; while he did not even order water to be given, according to custom. She did not cease to kiss his feet, while he did not deign to receive Christ with the kiss of hospitality. (246) She poured precious ointment on his feet, while he did not even anoint his head with oil. But why did our Lord, who was a model of frugality and economy, permit the expense of the ointment? It was because, in this way, the wretched sinner testified that she owed all to him. He had no desire of such luxuries, was not gratified by the sweet odor, and did not approve of gaudy dress. But he looked only at her extraordinary zeal to testify her repentance, which is also held out to us by Luke as an example; for her sorrow, which is the commencement of repentance, was proved by her tears. By placing herself at Christ’s feet behind him, and there lying on the ground, she discovered her modesty and humility. By the ointment, she declared that she offered, as a sacrifice to Christ, herself and all that she possessed. Every one of these things it is our duty to imitate; but the pouring of the ointment was an extraordinary act, which it would be improper to consider as a rule.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
Her many sins are forgiven Some interpret the verb differently, may her many sins be forgiven, and bring out the following meaning: — “As this woman evinces by remarkable actions, that she is full of ardent love to Christ, it would be improper for the Church to act harshly and severely towards her; but, on the contrary, she ought to be treated with gentleness, whatever may have been the aggravations of her offences.” But as ἀφέωνται is used, in accordance with the Athic dialect, for ἀφεῖνται , we must dispense with that subtlety of exposition which is disapproved by the context; for a little after, Christ uses the same words in his address to the woman, where the imperative mood would not apply. Here, too is added a corresponding clause, that he to whom less is forgiven loveth less.
The verb, which is in the present tense, must, no doubt, be resolved into a preterite. From the eager desire which she had manifested to discharge all the duties of piety, Christ infers that, although this woman might have been guilty of many sins, the mercy of God was so abundant towards her, that she ought no longer to be regarded as a sinner. Again, loving is not here said to be the cause of pardon, but a subsequent manifestation, as I have formerly mentioned; for the meaning of the words is this: — “They who perceive the display of deep piety in the woman form an erroneous judgment, if they do not conclude that God is already reconciled to her;” so that the free pardon of sins comes first in order. Christ does not inquire at what price men may purchase the favor of God, but argues that God has already forgiven this wretched sinner, and that, therefore, a mortal man ought not to treat her with severity.
48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
Thy sins are forgiven. It may be asked, why does Christ now promise to her the pardon which she had obtained, and of which she had been assured? Some reply that these words were uttered, not so much on her own account, as for the sake of others. For my own part, I have no doubt that it was chiefly on her own account; and this appears more clearly from the words that follow. Nor ought we to wonder, that the voice of Christ again pronounces an absolution of the woman, who had already tasted his grace, and who was even convinced that he was her only refuge of salvation. Thus, at the present day, faith is previously necessary, when we pray that the Lord would forgive our sins; and yet this is not a useless or superfluous prayer, but the object of it is, that the heavenly Judge may more and more seal his mercy on our hearts, and in this manner may give us peace. Though this woman had brought with her a confident reliance on that grace which she had obtained, yet this promise was not superfluous, but contributed greatly to the confirmation of her faith.
49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And those who sat at table with him began to say within themselves. Hence we again learn, that ignorance of Christ’s office constantly leads men to conceive new grounds of offense. The root of the evil is, that no one examines his own wretched condition, which undoubtedly would arouse every man to seek a remedy. There is no reason to wonder that hypocrites, who slumber amidst their vices, should murmur at it as a thing new and unexpected, when Christ forgives sins.
50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
Thy faith hath saved thee. To repress those murmurings, and, at the same time, to confirm the woman, Christ commends her faith. Let others grumble as they may, but do thou adhere steadfastly to that faith which has brought thee an undoubted salvation. At the same time, Christ claims for himself the authority which had been given to him by the Father; for, as he possesses the power of healing, to him faith is properly directed. And this intimates that the woman was not led by rashness or mistake to come to him, but that, through the guidance of the Spirit, she had preserved the straight road of faith. Hence it follows, that we cannot believe in any other than the Son of God, without considering that person to have the disposal of life and death. If the true reason for believing in Christ be, that God hath given him authority to forgive sins, whenever faith is rendered to another, that honor which is due to Christ must of necessity be taken from him. This saying refutes also the error of those who imagine that the forgiveness of sins is purchased by charity; for Christ lays down a quite different method, which is, that we embrace by faith the offered mercy. The last clause, Go in peace, denotes that inestimable fruit of faith which is so frequently commended in Scripture. It brings peace and joy to the consciences, and prevents them from being driven hither and thither by uneasiness and alarm.