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Sunday School Lesson (October 27, 2019) Faith Saves / Grateful Faith Luke 7:37-48

Faith Saves / Grateful Faith Luke 7:27-48

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson we see how faith saves an unnamed woman who is a sinner.  She demonstrates grateful faith and she needs forgiveness.  She’s not invited to Simon the Pharisee’s house but she goes anyway.  She goes with a determination not just to see Jesus, but to bless Jesus.  She knows he is the Messiah.  While she is crying at his feet she cried enough to wash his feet and I’m going to say she cried her heart out.  She cried!  She cried because she knew who Jesus was.  And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was.  Jesus knew her heart.  Jesus knew that she was a sinner.  But you don’t see Jesus condemning her.  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This woman demonstrates her love for Jesus and Jesus forgives her sin.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Gratitude

Pharisee

Background: 

This week’s lesson continues in the same book and chapter of last week.  The Gospel according to Luke is the third of the four Gospels.  It is also the third of the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  One of the most notable things about this Gospel is its narrative of the birth of Jesus.  Luke offers one of the most detailed records of the Savior’s birth.     

While Luke’s Gospel does not identify its author by name Nelson’s Bible Handbook tells us that the author “does tell us a good deal about himself.”  For example, both the Gospel of Luke and Acts are written to Theophilus, “a person of high social standing” (Nelson’s).  Nelson’s also explains that “the author is a Gentile and as such is interested in Gentiles and equally disinterested in matters purely Jewish”.  Dr. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder writes in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “Luke’s Jesus confronts the rich so that rich and poor are given equal footing.  Women, the lame, the hungry, and those deemed “other” are brought to the forefront by Luke presenting Jesus as one of and for the oppressed”.  I think that’s an important distinction to note about Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus identifying as oppressed puts him in the company of many of the Old Testament prophets for the Jewish people of his time and helps those who are oppressed today know that God is on their side.   As I mentioned last week, most people understand Luke to be a physician and a writer with excellent command of the Greek language.  Dr. Crowder notes however that “Nothing in the work itself declares the author to be Paul’s companion or a physician”.  She continues, “the book nonetheless bears the name of one who was deemed a companion of the Apostle Paul and a physician (Acts 16:10-17, 21:1-18; Col 4:11-14)”.  So there is some evidence to support the idea of Luke as a physician and Paul’s companion but it is not conclusive.  In much the same way, neither is the date that this Gospel was written.  Dr. Crowder notes that “there is not much to substantiate the time of its writing.  Yet references to the destruction of the second temple and Jerusalem aid in narrowing the time of composition to ca. 80-90 C.E.”.  

The seventh chapter of Luke begins with the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant.  Our lesson this week closes the seventh chapter and deals with a woman needing forgiveness.  The verses between last week’s lesson and this week include accounts of Jesus raising a widow’s son at Nain, and messengers coming from John the Baptist to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

In this lesson, we see a woman in need.  But she hasn’t come to Jesus begging.  Instead she comes with a tender heart of love.  In the same way Dr. Crowder says Jesus identifies with the oppressed I believe this woman knew that Jesus saw her and understood her.  Not only did he see her but Jesus understood her heart.  While this lesson may be entitled Faith Saves and Grateful Faith, I think it could just as easily be entitled a sinners love for Jesus.  This lesson will show us love demonstrated by a woman who sought forgiveness from her Savior.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gratitude

Pharisee

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson came from the same book and chapter of this week’s lesson.  Luke the seventh chapter began with Jesus having finished talking about loving your enemies, not judging or condemning others, and a parable about two foundations in chapter six.  When Jesus finished all of those sayings in chapter six he went into Capernaum.  I noted that Capernaum became the home of Jesus after he began his earthly ministry.  I also noted how Matthew fourth chapter explains that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee. 

Verse two explained that there was a centurion who owned a slave whom he valued highly.  The slave was sick and about to die.  A centurion was a Roman soldier responsible for one hundred men.  That means he would have been an official of the Roman Empire and a man with substantial authority over the Jewish people and over his own soldiers.  I quoted Dr. Mitzi J. Smith in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary noting how she explains that “when the centurion describes his slave as “highly valued” (entimos), he refers to the slave’s socioeconomic value”.  I highlighted that detail because I think it’s important to dispel the myth that American chattel enslavement was worse than New Testament enslavement and vise-versa. 

I also noted that the Greek word used for slave (or servant in some translations) is doulos.  The correct term is slave and is defined as a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.  I quoted Dr. Mitzi J. Smith again noting how she explains that “the owner is eager for Jesus to heal his servant because of the loss of revenue resulting from the slave’s sickness and inactivity.”  I also thought it was important to recognize Townsend Commentary explaining that “centurions who appear in the New Testament are generally shown to be men of positive character”.  And as I noted in the Background section, an enslaved person in New Testament days would not have been treated any better than those enslaved in the American chattel system. 

In verse three I noted that the centurion heard about Jesus and sent Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.  The reputation of Jesus preceded him.  This centurion knew about Jesus before even meeting Jesus.  The centurion already knew that Jesus had the authority and was capable of healing his valuable enslaved possession.  Evidently the centurion had the clout or authority to send Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf.  I noted that Matthew’s recollection of this story in Matthew the eighth chapter, says the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus.  

In verse four, when the Jewish elders came to Jesus they appealed to Jesus on behalf of the centurion.  They wanted Jesus to know that the centurion was deserving of this miracle.  I noted that this takes place in the early part of Jesus’ ministry.  It was in chapter 6 that Jesus called his twelve disciples.  Yet, his fame was already spreading.  The Jews who came to Jesus evidently believed Jesus could heal the servant also. 

Verse five explained why the Jewish elders believed the centurion was deserving of the miracle.  They explained to Jesus that the centurion was worthy “because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”. 

In verse six Jesus went with the Jewish elders.  When Jesus was not far from the centurion’s house the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to trouble himself, because he didn’t deserve to have Jesus under his roof.  I noted that the centurion’s humility could not be diminished.  He was a man of authority.  Yet he recognized that despite his own great authority, the authority of Jesus was far superior.   

In verse seven the centurion explained that he didn’t come personally to Jesus because he didn’t see himself as worthy.  It was the next statement that I thought really set the centurion apart.  He said “but say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Not only was the centurion demonstrating humility, he was also demonstrating faith.  The centurion really believed in the power of Jesus.  He believed that faith could heal. 

In verse eight the centurion explained that he was a man under authority with soldiers and servants that he could tell to go and come and to do and they would do what he told them to do.  The centurion wanted Jesus to know that despite his own authority, he respected the authority of Jesus.  I noted that having faith is having confidence or trust in a person.  I often pray that I’ve placed my faith, my trust, and my confidence in Jesus and Jesus alone.  While this centurion might have been kind to the Jewish people his kindness was not what moved Jesus.  Even though he may have been generous by having their synagogue built it wasn’t his generosity that moved Jesus.  What moved Jesus was the centurion’s faith.  This wasn’t wishful thinking.  It was a deep conviction that Jesus was the man who could and would make his slave well.  The centurion had an expectation that all Jesus needed to do was say the word.   

In verse nine, after hearing the centurion’s faith, Jesus was amazed.  I noted that Townsend explains that “this is one of two places in the gospels where Jesus is said to be amazed – here in Capernaum by faith and in Nazareth by unbelief (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6). 

Verse ten concluded the lesson helping us to know that Jesus did, in fact, heal the slave.  When the men returned to the house they found the servant well.  Jesus spoke the word and the slave was healed. 

Last week the Roman centurion, a Gentile, a man who wasn’t even in the Jewish faith demonstrated humility and great faith.  He was an outsider.  His faith was so great that it amazed Jesus.  Unlike the woman in this week’s lesson He was a man of great authority.  Yet we see in this week’s lesson both of them – a man of great authority and a woman of ill repute show great humility.  Regardless of their reasons, both of them were humble.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Faith Saves” Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Grateful Faith”.  The scripture text comes from Luke 7:37-48. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse thirty-seven describing a woman in the city as a sinner.  This verse specifies that it wasn’t until she knew that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house that she then brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  There are a couple things I want to highlight in this verse.  First of which is the fact that Jesus is eating with a Pharisee.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define Pharisee as a “Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31).  I highlight this because I often hear people use the term Pharisee as a pejorative.  In other words they look down on Pharisees in a negative way based on the Pharisee’s interactions with Jesus leading up to his crucifixion on the cross.  But I want to caution us about using Pharisee in a negative way.  There are a number of Jewish and Christian scholars who identify Jesus as a Pharisee.  Even though Pharisee’s are portrayed in a negative way in several scriptures we should be careful about using the term in a negative way.  In other words if Jesus was a Pharisee, maybe we shouldn’t call people a Pharisee or look down on Pharisee’s in a completely negative way.  Secondly, I want to highlight that this jar of perfume was expensive.  This woman who was identified as a sinner entered the Pharisee’s house without an invitation and brought an expensive jar of perfume because she was intent on blessing Jesus.  She wasn’t invited, but she was going in anyway. 

Verse thirty-eight tells us how she wept at Jesus’ feet.  She wept enough to wash his feet with her tears.  And then she dried his feet with her hair.  And then she kissed his feet with her lips.  And then she anointed his feet with this expensive perfume.  If she cried enough to wash his feet, I’m going to say she cried her heart out.  She cried!  She cried because she knew who Jesus was.  And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was.  Jesus knew her heart.  Jesus knew that she was a sinner.  But you don’t see Jesus condemning her.  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  That’s how this woman came to Jesus. 

Verse thirty-nine gives us an example of why Pharisee’s have a bad reputation.  This Pharisee questioned whether Jesus was a prophet based on the fact that Jesus let this weeping, broken hearted, contrite, woman touch him.  Notice also that the Pharisee “said to himself”.  He didn’t confront Jesus directly with his doubts.  Instead, he thinks these thoughts but Jesus knows what he is thinking.  Jesus didn’t judge the woman, but clearly this Pharisee did. 

In verse forty, Jesus knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts says “Simon, I have something to say to you”.  Simon calls Jesus “Teacher” and tells him to say on.  At this point you know the “Teacher” is about to take the Pharisee to school.  

In verses forty-one and forty-two Jesus begins a parable explaining how a creditor had two debtors, one owing 500 denarii and the other owing 50.  When neither could repay the debt the creditor forgave them both.  Jesus then asked Simon the Pharisee “which of them will love him the most”.

In verse forty three Simon the judgmental Pharisee said I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.  Jesus responded with you have judged rightly.  If Simon didn’t get the point before, it should be crystal clear by now.  This woman was a known sinner.  She knew her sins.  She knew what she had done and she knew what she had not done.  She owned it.  She didn’t place the blame on anybody else.  It was hers and she was sorry for her sins. 

In verses forty-four, forty-five, and forty-six class is in full session.  Jesus, this Rabbi, this Teacher is driving the point home.  He turns to the woman and tells Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came to YOUR house and you didn’t give me water to wash my feet but she bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  I came to YOUR house but you didn’t give me a kiss and yet here she is kissing my feet since I’ve been here.  I came to YOUR house and you didn’t anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  If Simon wasn’t embarrassed, he should have been.  Hospitality was important to the Jewish people and a Pharisee should have and would have known this.  This sinner woman showed more hospitality in the Pharisee’s house than the Pharisee did in his own house.

In verses forty-seven and forty-eight Jesus tells Simon that even though her sins are many she has been forgiven because she has shown great love.  He then turns to the woman and plainly tells her “your sins are forgiven”.  I can only imagine the great joy this broken hearted and contrite woman must have felt to hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness.  After all she had been through, after all she had done and failed to do, Jesus sees her and forgives her.  What does not get mentioned in the text is whether the Pharisee sought his own forgiveness. 

Context:

Forgiveness is pardoning or remitting an offense.  It restores a good relationship with God, others, or the self after sin or alienation.  Individuals can forgive other individuals, creditors can forgive debts, and institutions can seek forgiveness for any harm they have caused.  I’m specifically thinking of  the harm of institutional and systemic racism and white supremacy.  I think it’s important to note that forgiveness should not be offered to those who aren’t seeking forgiveness.  Forgiveness restores a good relationship.  We have recently seen efforts to encourage communities to offer forgiveness when police officers kill unarmed citizens – especially in the case of Atatiana Jefferson.  Those efforts were flatly rejected by the community and rightly so.  Forgiveness restores relationship.  Good relationship cannot exist in an environment of fear and no trust.  This sinful woman was repentant.  She was sorry for her sins and she demonstrated her love for Jesus with a contrite and broken heart.  She sought forgiveness in a way that made her repentance clear.  When true forgiveness is sought in a way that makes repentance clear forgiveness relationships is restored.  When there is true forgiveness there will be true relationship. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God.  His followers worship him and seek to obey his will.    

Unnamed Sinner woman – encompasses one of the instances when Jesus has contact with women.  In Luke 7, the name of the woman is never given.  She is not Mary Magdalene, who introduces him in the next event (Townsend).

Simon the Pharisee – A Pharisee (separated one) was of the Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31). 

Key Words: 

Gratitude – The response to God and God’s blessings that is an expression of praise and devotion.  In the Christian context, believers respond in gratitude for the “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15) of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme expression of God’s grace.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  A sinner’s love for Jesus.      

2.  No forgiveness sought and none given (the Pharisee).         

Questions: 

1.  Hospitality was an important practice in the Jewish faith.  Does Simon the Pharisee show appropriate hospitality to Jesus?            

2.  In what ways can you show your love for Jesus? 

Concluding Thought:

This woman knew Jesus was the Messiah.  She was an unlikely person to come in contact with the Messiah yet she did.  She wasn’t deterred dissuaded or discouraged.  She had a gift for Jesus and even though she wasn’t invited she went to the Pharisee’s house to meet her Savior.  She persisted.  We too need to persist. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is the first lesson of unit three and remains in the New Testament.  Next week 2 Corinthians thirteenth chapter invites us to explore self-examination as Paul admonishes the Corinthians to test themselves to see if they are in the faith.  The lesson is titled “Self-Examination”. 

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