It was Blaise Pascal who noted, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." In our text today, we find a woman, the city prostitute who acutely felt the need to have the vacuum of her heart filled. She discovered that Jesus loved her with a wholesome love—the kind of love every woman is searching for.
Prostitution is mentioned frequently in Scripture; the word harlot is used seventy-six times (with primary references in Leviticus 19, Proverbs, and 1 Corinthians 6). Two prostitutes even appear in the genealogy of Christ: Tamar and Rahab. Jesus pointed out that prostitutes were among those who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist (see Matthew 21:32), and He shocked the religious leaders by telling them that "tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:31).
Research into modern-day prostitution is heartbreaking. The sex trade is big business; in Miami alone, it's a $235-million-a-year industry. One in ten men in the world have purchased a prostitute. The average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen, the overwhelming majority being girls. Most are recruited or coerced into prostitution and are especially targeted within forty-eight hours of running away from home. It's a deadly job; statistics for job-related fatalities measure 18 deaths per 100,000 for police officers, 70 per 100,000 for airline pilots, and 204 per 100,000 for prostitutes. Over 95 percent have been threatened with a gun or beaten, and over half have been assaulted or raped. Our text tells us of a meeting between Jesus and a prostitute at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. Three distinct interactions occurred that show us the pitfalls of self-righteousness and the power of forgiveness.
First, we consider the interaction between the patriarch—Simon—and the prostitute (see Luke 7:36-38). Most likely, Simon invited Jesus over in order to interrogate Him. However, when a prostitute barged in, the center of gravity shifted. It was unusual for such a woman, a "sinner" (in those days, this word could only mean a prostitute), to be at such a meeting, and only Jesus welcomed her. Weeping, she loosened her hair and kissed Jesus' feet, pouring oil on them. We don't know the depth of her pain or why she became a prostitute, but we can guess why she was there. It's possible that, shortly before this meal, she had heard Jesus preach, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me...and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). She understood that Jesus was her best shot at a new start. A prostitute once said, "Prostitutes have very improperly been styled women of pleasure; they are women of pain, of sorrow, of grief, of bitter and continual repentance." Ignoring Simon's disdain, this prostitute rushed to Jesus, weeping from remorse and pain, desperate for hope. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Have you ever been desperate for God's forgiveness and love? How can that experience help you have compassion for someone like this woman?
Next, we see the patriarch and the preacher (see Luke 7:39-47). Simon mistook this woman's act of repentance and devotion for a sexual advance and criticized Jesus in his thoughts. Jesus read Simon's mind and replied to him out loud. The story Jesus then told revealed that Simon had a wrong view of everyone at the meal. In Simon's mind, Jesus was not a prophet, the woman was too sinful and filthy to be there, and he, Simon, was the most discerning person in the room. Jesus' story revealed that Simon's manner was inhospitable, his heart was judgmental, and his sin was invisible (hers was outward, and his was inward—until Jesus called him out on it). Like Simon, when we view life through the lens of legalism, we distort everyone and everything. Jesus rebuked him for not being as broken about his sin as she was about hers. Religion is the world's biggest blind spot in seeing our need for God; religion made Simon inhospitable to Jesus, judgmental toward this woman, and prideful in his attitude. The prostitute's sins were sins of the flesh; Simon's were of the spirit. Hers were overt and known to all; his were covert, known only to Jesus. What Simon saw insulted him, but what he heard should have convicted him. Describe a time when you have been unfairly judgmental. How did God bring you to a point of repentance?
Finally, we see the preacher and the prostitute (see Luke 7:48-50). Jesus was now face to face with this woman whose face was riddled with tears and shame, and He declared to her that her sins were forgiven. How wonderful she must have felt then! Jesus was not put off by her reputation, His knowledge of her past, or even Simon's judgment of her. Jesus knew that her heart was broken, filled with shame and remorse, and that she hated her lifestyle and wanted change. Others in the house were angry because Jesus told her that she was forgiven, but she was not angry—she was hungry. They were self-righteous; she was made righteous. The love she never found in all of her passionate encounters with men she now found in a single encounter with this unique Man, Jesus Christ. She learned that God has a big eraser. Simon's sin got exposed; this prostitute's sin got forgiven. Simon had years of theological training and yet no understanding of grace. She understood it after a few moments in Jesus' presence. Read Romans 5:20-21. What are the dangers of being self-righteous? How big is God's grace? How can you show grace when you meet someone who, on the surface, seems unworthy of it?
Here are three takeaways from this passage: First, everyone sins; face it. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and the worst sin of all is self-righteousness—it's an affront to the cross of Christ. Second, God's business is forgiveness; seek it. This woman knew that she was a great sinner, and she came to Jesus as her great Savior. Finally, God's Word is true; believe it. Jesus spoke a promise to this woman that she was saved and forgiven. Your sin can be forgiven, too!
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea We all need forgiveness. God stands ready to forgive any sin, from prostitution to self-righteousness.
Figures referenced: Will Rogers, Martin Luther, Laura Schulman, Tina Hoffman
Cross references: Leviticus 19; Proverbs; Matthew 11:28-29; 21:31-32; Luke 7:36-50; Romans 3:23; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 6; Hebrews 11:31
Keywords: prostitution, harlotry, sex, sex trade, Pharisees, love, legalism, judgment, judging, religion, sin, sinner, passion, flesh, self-righteousness, forgiveness, grace