Jesus was enjoying lunch at the home of Simon the Pharisee. During the meal a woman with a bad moral reputation walks into the house uninvited, kneels down at Jesus’ feet, anoints Jesus with very costly oil, and begins to wash his feet with her hair and her tears. Throughout the scene she never stops kissing his feet. Can you imagine the tension in the room? This woman’s display of extravagant worship, uncontainable affection, overflowing passion, and unusual sacrifice is truly inspiring.
If you’re not careful, the inspiration you feel will sound something like “You really ought to be more like this woman in your worship, passion, affection, and sacrifice.” The thing about “ought to” is it never really produces that result. The uncontainable love exploding in the heart of this woman was anything but “ought to”. “Ought to” only produces “try harder”. If I think I can get where I need to get by trying harder, then I’m actually trusting in my own effort – what I can accomplish. Faith never rests in what I can do, but rather in what Jesus has done. Trying harder because I ought to simply leads into the trap of dead religion.
The key to becoming like this woman is not trying harder because I ought to. The key is found in Jesus’ own words in the text.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”(ESV)
The key to this woman’s amazing, extravagant worship was not in her own effort motivated by obligation. The key to what she was able to give was in what she had received. She loved much because she was forgiven much. If I observe in myself a deficiency of love, passion, affection, or sacrifice then the true lack lies not in my need to try harder but rather in my need to cease from my own efforts and more fully receive of the grace already provided in Christ.