The Higher and The Lower Criticism
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting [Jesus] to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”*
*[This incident is referred to in all four scriptures at Matthew 26:1-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 11:1,2, and John 12:1-6, and above. Other than in Luke, this incident occurs in the last two days or so of Jesus’ life when it was His anointing for burial. John 11:2 helps us identify the woman in Luke 7 as Mary Magdalene.]
Like the “higher criticism” of the frequently atheist Bible scholars, the lower criticism of the Pharisees was made without understanding the liberation this woman experienced because of faith and love. For Simon the leper or any other unbeliever, the reason for their critique is that they do not accept Christ’s word that He is the Christ.
When Mary Magdalene anoints the Lord with perfume and tears she does well. The Lord says what she has done will be heard the whole world over when the Gospel is preached. But there is also our precious Simon the Apostle there, and another Simon, a leper at whose house they ate, who are criticized.
You see the leper who fed Jesus was a Pharisee and could not imagine that Jesus was a prophet for He allowed Mary, who was accounted a sinful woman, to touch Him. Of course in Old Testament law the leper is the one who was commanded to be quarantined. Jesus’ deviation from orthodoxy was therefore closer to home, but at the same time more encouraging, than Simon the Pharisee realized.
Jesus had to show why reaching Mary was so real. And so He compares her to a man who owed a great big debt. She was forgiven sins and was very grateful, moistening Jesus’ feet with her joyful relief, the old sins that were washed away, gone forever – and they do not stain Jesus. It seems the Pharisee could almost be jealous she was able to find herself forgiven of so much. Would he say that he too owed God a great debt that needed to be forgiven?
Christ was about to die, and Peter was about to betray. I believe this teaching was aimed more at the Simon who would so soon need it, that lover of Christ, Simon Peter. “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” Let me ask you something Simon. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me more than these? Did you come to me on the water? Did you leave all for me, trusting? Did you leap into the water and swim out to me? Peter will you stretch out you hands for me?
In the dark distress when Peter realized he betrayed his Lord he may have accused himself saying he had no love or faith. Then this address is critical – until he comes through and finds the joy of the Lord’s redemption – must be in Emmaus he came through the bottleneck. Jesus turns Peter back with this kind of higher criticism. Sorrow if you’ve failed. If you want salvation, come back for there is so much joy in forgiveness that an abundance of sins in the saved sinner means an abundance of joy in the forgiving God. Let us love and let us sin no more.
The lower criticism is made in the doubt of the Pharisees as they watch Jesus be anointed so He might put our sins to death. First watching her incredible repentance and intimate treatment of the Prophet, the host made himself a judge. “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39) Jesus delivers His own higher criticism concerning sin. Have you heard Him? If you love much it is because you have realized how much the Lord has forgiven you. Show love and you show an understanding of the Lord. When Jesus makes His high criticism, giving the equation between much love and much forgiveness, the table again begins the lower criticism: “And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’” Of course everyone at the table could have received the higher criticism, “do you love enough?” but not everyone will hear correction.
“A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.” – Proverbs 17:10
The lower criticism starts with the viewpoint that a sinning woman should not come so near a prophet. The lower criticism misses the beauty and power of the event, looking down on her humility. But the entire time Christ had been drawing her in. Though she is crying on his feet and washing them with her hair and anointing him with perfume, Luke seems to portray the event as though Jesus is unloading her grief and sin; it is He who washes her until she is clean and anoints her with His fragrance. She had found her place at the table. This is the real meal they have sat down to, the woman is a servant bringing out the food, and Christ is the Host who provides the meal for everyone there.