Grace is a challenging subject for most people – challenging, I believe, because most people really struggle with forgiveness.
After this past Sunday’s message on the forgiveness of God, I’ve been thinking about this subject again, but maybe, from a different perspective.
Reading the story (in Luke, chapter 7) about the former prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil, reminded me of one possible reason for the difficulty surrounding the subject of forgiveness.
How can we forgive as God has forgiven us if we struggle with the very fact of God’s forgiveness?
And if we struggle to admit that we struggle with God’s forgiveness, perhaps all we have to do is look at how we live…or more specifically how we smell…
Do we have the fragrance of grace…of the redeemed, or do we still reek of our old nature?
The word “redeemed” has been turned into such a traditional, churchy word that the beauty in the meaning of the word is often completely lost.
To be redeemed is simply to be “bought back”. (Think “Schindler’s List” only deeper and more costly…)
I’m sure the beauty of being “bought back” was not lost on this woman who couldn’t help but rain her tears and precious oil down upon the feet of her Savior, and in reading her story more closely we can see the depth of her gratitude.
I’ve heard many times about the financial sacrifice of this woman. After all, the oil that she poured out on Jesus’ feet was worth a year’s salary! Even the disciples focused on the earthly value of this gift. They were appalled that someone like her would be so inappropriate and wasteful.
But even in focusing on the seeming extravagance of her actions, we can miss the deeper statement that they made.
This woman was well-aware of her position…in society, in the religious culture, and in God’s eyes. She knew both the depth of her sin and the deeper depth of her redemption.
It wasn’t just because she knew how sinful she had been that she worshipped Christ with such abandon, but more importantly, it was because she knew how completely she had been forgiven and changed…and she trusted that forgiveness with everything – not just with her eternal life, but with her very life and breath each day.
How do I know this? I know this because she burned every bridge she had. She poured out, not only what she possessed, but who she was…or had been, and the opportunity to ever be that again.
This woman was, first of all…a woman, and women had no rights – an unmarried, prostitute who had no hope of even her next meal if her ability to sell herself was taken away. Not only was the fragrance her future…her life-savings, but it was literally everything.
Back then, that oil…that fragrance was what advertised her “availability”. It was the only way that someone in the market place would know that she was a prostitute. Without that fragrance, she had no livelihood.
So, not only did she pour out her possessions – a year’s salary – on Jesus’ feet, but she was literally pouring out her past and, more importantly, her future.
She stated in that one act of worship her complete trust in God’s redemptive forgiveness and burned every bridge back to who she used to be in order to focus everything she had and was in following Jesus.
And the disciples criticized her. They marveled at the waste…how many poor people could have been fed if that oil had been sold?
She made herself destitute rather than continuing to identify with her old life, even though she knew what it would mean for her.
She recognized God’s sacrifice in redeeming her, even before the reality of the cross – even before seeing the lengths that God would go to in order to buy us back.
So maybe our struggle with forgiveness is really a lack of trust…trust in God’s power to forgive us, to change us, to redeem us.
When we truly grasp the depths of God’s love and redemption, we will have no difficulty in burning every bridge that keeps us bound to our old selves. We will refuse to continue to be slaves…prostitutes to the lie of the Enemy that tells us that we are too far gone for God’s grace…that we couldn’t possibly survive without selling ourselves…that God hasn’t paid every cent of our dept and set us free.
We will continue to identify ourselves by the fragrance of bondage and shame rather than the fragrance of grace.
I believe that every story that we read in the Scriptures is there for a reason, and the reason for this beautiful story of a woman, her tears and her perfume is so that we can have a description of the purchasing-power of God’s love –
so that we can see an example of what it means to truly accept that forgiveness and grace –
so that we can walk in that grace and extend it to those around us –
so that we have the courage to pour out any prospect of our old selves and take on the fragrance of forgiveness.
To walk in grace is to walk away from bondage and walk in the freedom of who we are in Christ.
It’s just that simple…and it’s just that hard.
The grace of God is a great equalizer. In our weakness, He is strong.
In a moment, Christ gladly took upon Himself the fragrance of sin and bondage, and replaced it with the sweet perfume of grace and freedom.
In the simple abandon of one prostitute’s gratitude, we can see the supernatural changing power of the Almighty Creator and Savior of the world.
How I pray the rest of my days bring Him such glory, and that with each step I take the fragrance of grace and forgiveness is all that is left behind.