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Two Women and Christ’s Peace in Luke 7

November 27, 2006

Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
Luke 7:12-15

And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven….And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. Luke 7:48,50

Here, two very different women received new life in two very different ways in two different cameos. I think both take place in Nain, probably the same day, but this is uncertain.

The widow of Nain was a good woman, with a good reputation; we can know this because she had a consort of “much people of the city” mourning with her as she followed the bier of her dead son. She had likely won the hearts of many with her good works and upstanding life. The Lord told her to “Weep not,” and restored her son to life and delivered him to her. The response was overwhelming:

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. Luke 7:16

The widow returned glory to God, presumably with immense gratitude and joy. We don’t know whether she associated the gift of new life with the forgiveness of sin. We don’t know whether she knew that “Weep not” was an all-clear message from God with respect to his remembrance of sin. Certainly her son received new life, and spoke something of it when he arose. As a mercy to the widow, the Lord delivered her risen son to her, rather than taking him away as a disciple.

I like to think the widow had more than a mother’s understanding of the thing, and glorified God from a renewed heart. We see that the Lord Jesus Christ transformed her mourning to joy; we can hope that she apprehended the profound implications of his raising her son: that he had truly conquered death. But we aren’t specifically told.

The penitent woman who entered the house of Simon the Pharisee to anoint Jesus and weep over him had none of the social benefits that attracted supporters to the widow. She was alone. She was a lawbreaker, a “sinner” in the eyes of the Pharisee. Despite common presumption that she was an adulteress, this is probably unlikely, for she had not been stoned. She could have been a harlot. Unmarried women of the Roman Empire were often prostitutes or slaves, and their status was next to sub-human.

Whoever she was, she was a sinner; we don’t know the nature of her sin. We know she knew Jesus to be worthy of her anointing, her tears, and her display of abject humility. She could not have been anointing him for his own burial, for she could have known nothing of what lay ahead for the Lord. Her anointing was an act of pure worship of her savior. It was a far more emotional and elaborate anointing than the typical anointing of hospitality that Simon neglected to bestow upon Jesus.

This woman is in mourning; she mourns her sin and her terrible shame before God. She is humbled beyond shame before men. And, as he did for the widow, Jesus turns her mourning, if not to joy, to peace. She knows he is her only hope for relief from her sin.

Jesus overhears the Pharisee’s thoughts:

This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. Luke 7:39

Jesus corrects Simon the self-righteous Pharisee with a parable of two debtors. Simon gives the correct answer to Jesus’ question as to which debtor will love the creditor the most: The one who was forgiven the most. Then Jesus tells the penitent woman her sins are forgiven. He does not say the same to Simon or any of the others present. They still wonder who he is that forgives sins. She knows. Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her, and bids her go in peace. And she goes in peace, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, the peace of forgiveness of sin and the peace of a renewed heart. Unquestionably, she knows he is the One who is able to give this to her.

Given different backgrounds, circumstances, and social habits of the time, it is unlikely that the widow and the penitent woman became social equals. It doesn’t matter. Both receive mercy; it is likely both receive peace of heart and new life. Certainly the poorer woman with the lower circumstances and the greater burden of sin received the greater mercy, for she had the most to be forgiven. The widow did not neglect to give glory to God. But the penitent woman would love him much, for she had been forgiven much.

God’s power to forgive sin and transform mourning into joy is boundless. Whoever we were before God imparted his mercy and imputed to us the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ, and transformed us with saving faith–whatever we’ve been, only one thing is certain: we were sinners, and we continue to sin. God has leveled those on whom he has had mercy into one people: his Church.

When we examine the magnitude of our depravity, we can begin to know the immensity of our debt to God; no debt to any creditor could ever begin to match it. Thus, much has been forgiven. The question remains: Do we love God much?

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