In Luke 7, we encounter two characters when Jesus dines with Simon. One sees themself as a sinner and one does not. Simon the Pharisee, did not see himself a sinner. This becomes obvious throughout the story that Luke tells. First, we see the contrast between the way sinners see Jesus and the way non-sinners see Jesus. Simon’s lack of hospitality was a dead giveaway. Jesus points this out in the story. It was customary to provide water for foot washing for guests. This custom was established as early as Genesis 18-19. Often, a servant would be appointed to remove the sandals from the feet of honored guests and wash their feet for them as Jesus did for his disciples at the last supper. But Simon didn’t even bring water. Simon did not greet Jesus with a cordial kiss as was the custom as well. It’s interesting that the kiss of greeting is what Judas used to betray Jesus in the garden. It was also customary for the host to provide oil for anointing of their guests.

Next, we see the woman. The text goes out of its way to note that she was a notorious sinner in that city and well known as such. The passage is crystal clear. Luke 7:37 reads, “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner…” the phrase “woman of the city” carries with it the connotation of being well known for what she does. And what is that? It is being a sinner. Some identify this woman as Mary Magdalene but we don’t know her identity for sure, but we do know she was a sinner and unlike Simon, she knew she was a sinner. Luke wants us to understand this and makes it clear that what was lacking in Simon, a warm and loving welcome, was lavishly provided by the woman. She washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed his feet repeatedly and then anointed them with expensive perfume.

Simon had no love for Jesus as seen in his lack of hospitality because he did not see his need. It was a matter of perception. This is what repentance truly is. It is the comprehension of our sinfulness. When we grasp this truth and find forgiveness in Jesus we now can truly love but not until then. Paul understood that truth when after 40 years of ministry, he writes to his young disciple Timothy saying, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). St. Francis of Assisi understood this too: “There is nowhere a more wretched and miserable sinner than I.”  Kent Hughes notes this statements and says, “Their greatness, their spiritual health, rested upon the knowledge that they were sinners in need of the constant grace of God. This is true of all of us. Do not succumb to the self-righteous delusion that God’s grace has been so effectual in your life that you don’t need it anymore”.[1]

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 282.