The Secret Beauty of Forgiveness

Nothing quite ruins a fancy dinner like an hysterical woman. Polite conversation stops and (for a while) we all pretend not to notice. Then someone finally speaks up because her behavior is unacceptable. That’s what happened when a man named Simon, a proper and meticulous Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. Simon was concerned about decorum,…

secret beauty

Nothing quite ruins a fancy dinner like an hysterical woman. Polite conversation stops and (for a while) we all pretend not to notice. Then someone finally speaks up because her behavior is unacceptable. That’s what happened when a man named Simon, a proper and meticulous Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. Simon was concerned about decorum, but he was about to discover the secret beauty of forgiveness.

Before we jump to the story, imagine what must have happened before the dinner party began. Simon, a man who respected the law of God, had made plans to be the host. In the home of a Pharisee, the table had to be perfect, because the table was like the Temple. Simon probably had a personal agenda as well: you don’t invite a celebrity to your house without thinking through the topics of conversation. You try to anticipate all the details in advance and put your best foot forward.

Then someone slipped past Security and began to make a scene:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. (Luke 7:36-38)

The Secret Beauty of Forgiveness

Perhaps you know the story. Simon recognizes the woman as a sinner from the streets of the city. He thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” But it doesn’t take a prophet to see someone’s sin and label them as such. The true prophet seated at the table saw something else: the beauty of forgiveness: a changed heart and the seed of loving gratitude taking deep root.

Simon saw a dinner party ruined. Jesus saw a life in repair. He saw the contrast between those who think they have it all under control and those who know for certain they do not. Jesus saw the difference between one person striving to avoid the label “Sinner,” and one who saw that same label as a path to freedom.

The irony of the whole affair is that we would never remember the dinner party if it had gone perfectly. Not even Simon, the host, would have. What makes the story worth telling again and again is how everything went wrong in the best possible way. Like that other time when four strangers tore a hole in Peter’s roof, or that time when Jesus ruined a perfectly planned funeral by stepping into the procession and raising the widow’s son. It seems interruptions followed whenever Jesus went—or is it that he himself is the Great Interruption?

That night at Simon’s place the interruption was forgiveness. Forgiveness is Jesus’s preferred scandal. It’s the rude interruption to our careful planned party. Forgiveness is the uninvited guest who makes a mockery of the fine china of our lives. We can choose between keeping the china in a fancy cabinet, using it only when we pretend everything’s at its best, or smashing the plates and making a mosaic of the shards of our messed-up lives. Forgiveness cares nothing for etiquette and everything for the gauche. The secret beauty of forgiveness: it’s only available to the sinner.

Jesus speaks forgiveness to the mess and refuse of all that’s ugly in our lives, his words become the stuff of stories told centuries later, like the time that woman broke in and ruined a dinner party. We should be so lucky to have our plans ruined again today.

 

This article on the secret beauty of forgiveness originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Ray Hollenbach
Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His devotional book "Deeper Grace" is available at Amazon.com He currently lives in central Kentucky. He's also the author of of "The Impossible Mentor", a deep dive into the foundations of discipleship.