The accusations Jesus made to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50 don’t seem very outrageous to the modern, westernized reader today. But to make an adequate analogy for today’s culture, consider: What if stranger came yelling and pounding as hard on your door as you’d expect if your house was on fire? And as soon as you opened the door the stranger barged in with his muddy boots, flying into your living room. He flops down on your couch and swings his muddy boots up onto the arm before you, in shock, can object. Just as swiftly, he folds his hands under his head and exclaims, “It’s good to be home.” Well what Simon the Pharisee did, then what the woman and Jesus did, were all just as outrageous for that time. And today’s blog will conclude the reasons for this.
Two of the woman’s actions [washing feet with tears and wiping with her hair] …were spontaneous responses to what she saw happening [i.e. Simon’s rude conduct]. But she did come prepared to anoint his feet with perfume…it was the custom…that noblemen were anointed with ointment in the houses of kings and priests…. For her to anoint his head would be extremely presumptuous…but she can, as a servant, anoint his feet…show honor…. Thus, while Simon’s gesture implies Jesus to be of inferior rank, the woman’s action bestows on him the honor of a nobleman…
And since Jesus accused Simon of neglecting a kiss, consider first Psalm 2:12, “Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction….”
The kissing of the feet is not only compensation for what Simon has refused, but also a public gesture of great humility and abject devotion…. For Simon, the calculated snub of the young rabbi is not proceeding according to plan.
More shocking than all this, though, is the contrast to the expectations of hospitality in their era. I cover their expectations in a former blog, but more about the contrast from the above source:
…here a man and a woman are compared…. In a Middle Eastern world, still dominated almost exclusively by men, such dramatic scenes were and are a profound statement…. The shock of praising a despised woman in male company is bad enough. Yet the sharp edge of the criticism can be fully understood only in the light of the cultural expectations….
The guest in any society is expected to show appreciation for the hospitality extended to him…. In the Middle East these expectations of the guest are solidified into an unwritten law. The host is expected to downgrade the quality of his offerings as inadequate for the rank and nobility of the guest. Irrespective of what is set before him, the guest must say again and again that he is unworthy of the hospitality extended to him….
Shame is a passion with Eastern nations. Your host would blush to point out to you the indecorum of your conduct; and the laws of hospitality oblige him to supply the every want of a guest….
The possibility of a guest pointing out the indecorum of the host’s actions is so remote…unknown in fact or fiction….
Yet despite Christ’s shocking behavior, the wisdom he uses in his rebuke is a lesson for us. Such extreme situations remind me of soccer. If the ball is coming at you and you immediately try to kick it, it will have almost a 0% chance of going where you want it to go. But by first stopping the ball, then aiming when you kick, you increase your aim by 90-100%. Christ does this with the Pharisee not by saying, “You hypocrite!” like he did with other Pharisees at other times. Instead, he tells a story of two debtors. He asks the Pharisee to think for himself about the comparison made, and corners him for his obvious conclusion. Then he kindly makes the comparison.
There’s a time and place for harsh, head-on rebukes, but it’s rarely a good idea. When a dog is growling and baring his teeth, it’s better not to run or show fear. If you get bitten, you’ll want it to be because it was something that can’t be helped. And to honor God most effectively, we should pray for wisdom and use it (James 1:5).
The above is a picture of a Sanhedrin court from the 1st century. Sanhedrin courts were in various places of ancient Palestine, but the New Testament always refers to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. This is where debtors would have their debts forgiven, as in Christ’s parable. The artwork is scanned from Daily Life in the Time of Jesus.