Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
36. And one of the Pharisees requested him to take food with him; and he entered into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down at table. 37. And, lo, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, when she knew that he sat at table in the house of the Pharisee, brought an alabaster box of ointment: 236 38. And sitting at his feet behind him, and weeping, she began to wash his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment. 237 39. And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, said, speaking within himself, If this man were a Prophet, he would certainly know who and what sort of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner. 238 40. And Jesus answering, said to him, Simon, I have something to say to thee. And he said, Master, say on. 41. A certain creditor had two debtors: one owed five hundred pence, and another fifty. 42. And when they had nothing to pay, he forgave them both. Tell me then, which of them will love him more? 43. Simon answering said, I suppose that it will be he to whom he forgave more. And he said to him, Thou hast decided aright. 44. And turning to the woman, he said to Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest not water for my feet; but she hath moistened my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45. Thou gavest me not a kiss; but she, since the time that I entered, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 47. For which reason I say to thee, Her many sins are forgiven, for she hath loved much; but he to whom less is forgiven loveth less. 48. And he said to her, Thy sins are forgiven thee. 49. And those who sat at table with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that even forgiveth sins? 50. And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
36. And one of the Pharisees requested him. This narrative shows the captious disposition, not only to take, but to seek out, offenses, which was manifested by those who did not know the office of Christ. A Pharisee invites Christ; from which we infer, that he was not one of those who furiously and violently opposed, nor of those who haughtily despised his doctrine. But whatever might be his mildness, he is presently offended when he sees Christ bestow a gracious reception on a woman who, in his opinion, ought not to have been permitted to approach or to converse with him; and, accordingly, disowns him as a prophet, because he does not acknowledge him to be the Mediator, whose peculiar office it was to bring miserable sinners into a state of reconciliation with God. It was something, no doubt, to bestow on Christ the honor due to a prophet; but he ought also to have inquired for what purpose he was sent, what he brought, and what commission he had received from the Father. Overlooking the grace of reconciliation, which was the main feature to be looked for in Christ, the Pharisee concluded that he was not a prophet And, certainly, had it not been that through the grace of Christ this woman had obtained the forgiveness of her sins, and a new righteousness, she ought to have been rejected.
Simon’s mistake lies only in this: Not considering that Christ came to save what was lost, he rashly concludes that Christ does not distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy. That we may not share in this dislike, let us learn, first, that Christ was given as a Deliverer to miserable and lost men, 239 and to restore them from death to life. Secondly, let every man examine himself and his life, and then we will not wonder that others are admitted along with us, for no one will dare to place himself above others. It is hypocrisy alone that leads men to be careless about themselves, 240 and haughtily to despise others.
37. A woman who was a sinner The words stand literally as I have translated them,(ἥτις ἧν ἁμαζτωλὸς.) Erasmus has chosen to take the pluperfect tense, who Had Been a sinner, 241 lest any one should suppose that at that time she still was a sinner But by so doing, he departed from the natural meaning; for Luke intended to express the place which the woman held in society, and the opinion universally entertained respecting her. Though her sudden conversion had rendered her a different person in the sight of God from what she had previously been, yet among men the disgrace attaching to her former life had not yet been effaced. She was, therefore, in the general estimation of men a sinner, that is, a woman of wicked and infamous life; and this led Simon to conclude, though erroneously, that Christ had not the Spirit of discernment, since he was unacquainted with that infamy which was generally known. 242
40. And Jesus answering said. By this reply Christ shows how egregiously Simon was mistaken. Exposing to public view his silent and concealed thought, he proves himself to possess something more excellent than what belonged to the Prophets; for he does not reply to his words, but refutes the sentiment which he kept hidden within his breast. Nor was it only on Simon’s account that this was done, but in order to assure every one of us, that we have no reason to fear lest any sinner be rejected by him, who not only gives them kind and friendly invitations, but is prepared with equal liberality, and—as we might say—with outstretched arms, to receive them all.
41. A certain creditor had two debtors The scope of this parable is to demonstrate, that Simon is wrong in condemning the woman who is acquitted by the heavenly judge. He proves that she is righteous, not because she pleased God, but because her sins were forgiven; for otherwise her case would not correspond to the parable, in which Christ expressly states, that the creditor freely forgave the debtors who were not able to pay. We cannot avoid wondering, therefore, that the greater part of commentators have fallen into so gross a blunder as to imagine that this woman, by her tears, and her anointing, and her kissing his feet, deserved the pardon of her sins. The argument which Christ employs was taken, not from the cause, but from the effect; for, until a favor has been received, it cannot awaken gratitude, 243 and the cause of reciprocal love is here declared to be a free forgiveness. In a word, Christ argues from the fruits or effects that follow it, that this woman has been reconciled to God.
44. And turning to the woman. The Lord appears to compare Simon with the woman, in such a manner as to make him chargeable with nothing more than light offenses. But this is spoken only in the way of concession. “Suppose now, Simon,” he says, “that the guilt from which God discharges thee was light, 244 and that this woman has been guilty of many and very heinous offenses. Yet you see how she proves by the effect that she has obtained pardon. For what mean those profuse tears, those frequent kisses of the feet, that precious ointment? What mean they but to acknowledge, that she had been weighed down by an enormous burden of condemnation? And now she regards the mercy of God with fervor of love proportioned to her conviction that her necessity had been great.”
From the words of Christ, therefore, we are not at liberty to infer, that Simon had been a debtor to a small amount, or that he was absolved from guilt. 245 It is more probable that, as he was a blind hypocrite, he was still plunged in the filth of his sins. But Christ insists on this single point, that, however wicked the woman may have been, she gave undoubted proofs of her righteousness, by leaving no kind of duty undone to testify her gratitude, and by acknowledging, in every possible way, her vast obligations to God. At the same time, Christ reminds Simon, that he has no right to flatter himself, as if he were free from all blame; for that he too needed mercy; and that if even he does not obtain the favor of God without pardon, he ought to look upon this woman’s gifts, whatever might have been her former sins, as evidences of repentance and gratitude.
We must attend to the points of contrast, in which the woman is preferred to Simon. She moistened his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head; while he did not even order water to be given, according to custom. She did not cease to kiss his feet, while he did not deign to receive Christ with the kiss of hospitality. 246 She poured precious ointment on his feet, while he did not even anoint his head with oil. But why did our Lord, who was a model of frugality and economy, permit the expense of the ointment? It was because, in this way, the wretched sinner testified that she owed all to him. He had no desire of such luxuries, was not gratified by the sweet odor, and did not approve of gaudy dress. But he looked only at her extraordinary zeal to testify her repentance, which is also held out to us by Luke as an example; for her sorrow, which is the commencement of repentance, was proved by her tears. By placing herself at Christ’s feet behind him, and there lying on the ground, she discovered her modesty and humility. By the ointment, she declared that she offered, as a sacrifice to Christ, herself and all that she possessed. Every one of these things it is our duty to imitate; but the pouring of the ointment was an extraordinary act, which it would be improper to consider as a rule. 247
47. Her many sins are forgiven Some interpret the verb differently, may her many sins be forgiven, and bring out the following meaning: — “As this woman evinces by remarkable actions, that she is full of ardent love to Christ, it would be improper for the Church to act harshly and severely towards her; but, on the contrary, she ought to be treated with gentleness, whatever may have been the aggravations of her offenses.” But as ἀφέωνται is used, in accordance with the Athic dialect, for ἀφεῖνται, we must dispense with that subtlety of exposition which is disapproved by the context; for a little after, Christ uses the same words in his address to the woman, where the imperative mood would not apply. Here, too is added a corresponding clause, that he to whom less is forgiven loveth less
The verb, which is in the present tense, must, no doubt, be resolved into a preterite. 248 From the eager desire which she had manifested to discharge all the duties of piety, Christ infers that, although this woman might have been guilty of many sins, the mercy of God was so abundant towards her, that she ought no longer to be regarded as a sinner. Again, loving is not here said to be the cause of pardon, 249 but a subsequent manifestation, as I have formerly mentioned; for the meaning of the words is this: — “They who perceive the display of deep piety in the woman form an erroneous judgment, if they do not conclude that God is already reconciled to her;” so that the free pardon of sins comes first in order. Christ does not inquire at what price men may purchase the favor of God, but argues that God has already forgiven this wretched sinner, and that, therefore, a mortal man ought not to treat her with severity.
48. Thy sins are forgiven. It may be asked, why does Christ now promise to her the pardon which she had obtained, and of which she had been assured? Some reply that these words were uttered, not so much on her own account, as for the sake of others. For my own part, I have no doubt that it was chiefly on her own account; and this appears more clearly from the words that follow. Nor ought we to wonder, that the voice of Christ again pronounces an absolution of the woman, who had already tasted his grace, and who was even convinced that he was her only refuge of salvation. Thus, at the present day, faith is previously necessary, when we pray that the Lord would forgive our sins; and yet this is not a useless or superfluous prayer, but the object of it is, that the heavenly Judge may more and more seal his mercy on our hearts, and in this manner may give us peace. Though this woman had brought with her a confident reliance on that grace which she had obtained, yet this promise was not superfluous, but contributed greatly to the confirmation of her faith.
49. And those who sat at table with him began to say within themselves. Hence we again learn, that ignorance of Christ’s office constantly leads men to conceive new grounds of offense. The root of the evil is, that no one examines his own wretched condition, which undoubtedly would arouse every man to seek a remedy. There is no reason to wonder that hypocrites, who slumber amidst their vices, 250 should murmur at it as a thing new and unexpected, when Christ forgives sins.
50. Thy faith hath saved thee. To repress those murmurings, 251 and, at the same time, to confirm the woman, Christ commends her faith. Let others grumble as they may, but do thou adhere steadfastly to that faith which has brought thee an undoubted salvation. 252 At the same time, Christ claims for himself the authority which had been given to him by the Father; for, as he possesses the power of healing, to him faith is properly directed. And this intimates that the woman was not led by rashness or mistake to come to him, but that, through the guidance of the Spirit, she had preserved the straight road of faith. Hence it follows, that we cannot believe in any other than the Son of God, without considering that person to have the disposal of life and death. If the true reason for believing in Christ be, that God hath given him authority to forgive sins, whenever faith is rendered to another, that honor which is due to Christ must of necessity be taken from him. This saying refutes also the error of those who imagine that the forgiveness of sins is purchased by charity; for Christ lays down a quite different method, which is, that we embrace by faith the offered mercy. The last clause, Go in peace, denotes that inestimable fruit of faith which is so frequently commended in Scripture. It brings peace and joy to the consciences, and prevents them from being driven hither and thither by uneasiness and alarm.
“Or voyci il y avoit une femme de la ville qui avoit este de mauvaise vie, laquelle ayant cognu qu’il estoit assis a table en la maison du Pharisien, apporta une boiste d’ongnement;” — “but, lo, there was a woman of the city who was of wicked life, who, having learned that he sat at table in the house of the Pharisee, brought a box of ointment.”
“Et les frottoit d’ongnement;” — “and rubbed them with ointment.”
“Car elle est de mauvaise vie;” — “for she is of wicked life.”
“Que Christ a este donne pour liberateur au genre humain, miserable et perdu;” — “that Christ was given as a deliverer to the human race, miserable and lost.”
“Qui fait que les hommes se me cognoissent;” — “which makes men forget themselves.”
“Quoe fuerat peccatrix
“Veu qu’il ne cognoist point l’infamie de la vie de ceste femme qui estoit notoire a un chacun;” — “since he does not know the infamy of the life of this woman, which was notorious to every one.”
“Veu que le remerciment presuppose tousiours qu’on ait avant receuquelque bien;” — “since gratitude always presupposes that some favor has been received.”
“Mettons le cas, Simon, que le fardeau des pechez, desquels Dieu t’a descharge fust petit;” — “let us put the case, Simon, that the burden of the sins, from which God has discharged thee, was small.”
“Et s’il avoit este absous de la condamnation qu’il avoit encourue;” —”and if he had been absolved from the condemnation which he had incurred.”
“En lieu que l’autre n’a pas mesme daigne le baiser par une facon commune de civilite;” — “whereas the other did not even deign to kiss him, according to an ordinary custom of civility.”
“A este un acte special et extraordinaire, duquel si on vouloit faire une reigle generale, ce seroit un abus;” — “was a special and extraordinary act, of which, if we wished to make a general rule, it would be a mistake.”
“Combien qu’il faut resoudre le verbe du temps present en un temps passe: comme quand il dit, Ses pechez luy sont pardonnez: il faut entendre, Ont este pardonnez;” — “though the verb must be resolved from the present tense into a past tense: as when he says, Her sins are forgiven, we must understand it to mean, Have been forgiven.”
“Il n’est pas dit ici que la dilection ou amour des hommes envers Dieu soit la cause de la remission des pechez;” — “it is not here said that the loving, or the love of men towards God, is the cause of the forgiveness of sins.”
“Qui se plaisent et fiattent en leurs vices;” — “who please and flatter themselves amidst their vices.”
“Pour reprimer les murmures de ces gens;” — “to repress the murmurings of those people.”
“Qui t’a apporte certitude de salut;” — “which has brought thee certainty of salvation.”