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Her modesty and her tears bewray her change; and if she be changed, why is she ceasured for what she is not?
Lastly, How strongly did it savour of the leaven of thy profession, that thou supposest
, were she what she was, that it could not stand with the knowledge and holiness of a prophet to admit of her least touch, yea, of her presence; whereas, on the one side, outward conversation in itself makes no man unclean or holy, but according to the disposition of the patient; on the other, such was the purity and perfection of this thy glorious guest, that it was not possibly infectible, nor any way obnoxious to the danger of others' sin. He, that said once,“ Who touched me?" in regard of virtue issuing from him, never said, whom have I touched? in regard of any contagion incident unto him. We sinful creatures, in whom the prince of this world finds too much, may easily be tainted with other men's sins. He, who came to take away the sins of the world, was incapable of pollution by sin. Had the woman then been still a sinner, thy censure of Christ was proud and unjust.
The Pharisee spake, but it was within himself; and now, behold, “ Jesus answering, said.”
What we think, we speak to our hearts, and we speak to God'; and he equally hears, as if it came out of our mouths
. Thoughts are not free. Could men know and convince them, they would be no less liable to censure, than if they came forth clothed with words. God, who hears them, judges of them accordingly. So here, the heart of Simon speaks, “Jesus answers. '
Jesus answers him, but with a parable. He answers many a thought with judgment; the blasphemy of the heart, the murder of the heart, the adultery of the heart, are answered by him with a real vengeance. For Simon, our Saviour saw his error was either out of simple ignorance, or weak mistaking; where he saw no malice, then it is enough to answer with a gentle conviction. The convictive answer of Christ is by way of parable. The wisdom of God knows how to circumvent us for our gain ; and can speak that pleasingly, by a prudent circumlocution, which down-right would not be digested. Had our Saviour said in plain terms, Simon, whether dost thou or this sinner love me more? the Pharisee could not for shame but have stood upon his reputation, and, in a scorn of the comparison, have protested his exceeding respects to Christ. Now, ere he is aware, he is fetched in to give sentence against himself, for her whom he condemned. O Saviour, thou hast made us fishers of men; how should we learn of thee so to bait our hooks, that they may be most likely to take! Thou, the great householder of thy church, hast provided victuals for thy family, thou hast appointed us to dress them: if we do not so cook them, as that they may fit the palates to which they are intended, we do both lose our labour and thy cost. The parable is of two debtors to one creditor; the one owed a lesser sum, the other a greater; both are forgiven. It was not the purpose of him that propounded it, that we should stick in the bark : God is our creditor, our sins our debts ; we are all debtors, but one more deep than another. No man can pay this debt alone, satisfaction is not possible; only remission can discharge us.
God doth in mercy forgive as well the greatest as the least sins. Our love to God is proportionable to the sense of our remission. So then the Pharisee cannot choose but confess, that the more and greater the sin is, the greater mercy in the forgiveness ; and the more mercy in the forgiver, the greater obligation and more love in the forgiven.
Truth, from whose mouth soever it falls, is worth taking up: our Saviour praises the true judgment of a Pharisee. It is an injurious indiscretion in those who are so prejudiced against the persons, that they reject the truth. He, that would not quench the smoking flax, encourages even the least good. As the careful chirurgeon strokes the arm ere he strikes the vein, so did Christ here ; ere he convinces the Pharisee of his want of love, he graceth him with a fair approbation of his judgment. Yet the while turning both his face and his speech to the poor penitent, as one that cared more for a true humiliation for sin, than for a false pretence of respect and innocence.
With what a dejected and abashed countenance, with what earth-fixed eyes, do we imagine the poor woman stood, when she saw her Saviour direct his face and words to her.
She that but durst stand behind him, and steal the falling of some tears upon his feet, with what a blushing astonishment doth she behold his sidereal countenance cast upon her! While his eyes were turned towards this penitent, his speech was turned to the Pharisee concerning that penitent, by him
mistaken: "Seest thou this woman?” He who before had said, “ If this man were a prophet, he would have known what manner of woman this is,” now hears, “Seest thou this woman?" Simon saw but her outside ; Jesus lets him see that he saw her heart, and will thus convince the Pharisee that he is more than a prophet, who knew not ber conversation only, but her soul. The Pharisee, that went all by appearance, shall by her deportment see the proof of her good disposition: it shall happily shame him, to hear the comparison of the wants of his own entertainments, with the abundance of hers.
It is strange that any of this formal sect should be defective in their lotions. Simon had not given water to so great a guest; she washes his feet with ber tears. By how much the water of the eye was more precious than the water of the earth, so much was the respect and courtesy of this penitent above the neglected office of the Pharisee. What use was there of a towel, where was no water? she, that made a fountain of her eyes, made precious napery of her hair ; that better flax shamed the linen in the Pharisee's chest.
A kiss of the cheek had wont to be pledge of the welcome of their guests : Simon neglects to make himself thus happy; she redoubles the kisses of her humble thankfulness upon the blessed feet of her Saviour. The Pharisee omits ordinary oil for the head, she supplies the most precious and fragrant oil to his feet.
Now the Pharisee reads his own taxations in her praise, and begins to envy where he had scorned.
It is our fault, O Saviour, if we mistake thee. We are ready to think, so thou have the substance of good usage, thou regardest not the compliments and ceremonies; whereas now we see thee to have both meat and welcome in the Pharisee's house, and yet hear thee glance at his neglect of washing, kissing, anointing. Doubtless, omission of due circumstances in thy entertainment may deserve to lose our thanks. Do we pray to thee? do we hear thee preach to us? now we make thee good cheer in our house: but if we perform not these things with the fit decency of our outward carriages, we give thee not thy water, thy kisses, thy oil. Even meet ritual observances are requisite for thy full welcome.
Yet how little had these things been regarded, if they had
not argued the woman's thankful love to thee, and the ground of that love, sense of her remission, and the Pharisee's default in both!
Love and action do necessarily evince each other. True love cannot lurk long unexpressed; it will be looking out at the eyes, creeping out
of the mouth, breaking out at the fingers' ends, in some actions of dearness, especially those wherein there is pain and difficulty to the agent, profit or pleasure to the affected. O Lord, in vain shall we profess to love thee, if we do nothing for thee! Since our goodness cannot reach up unto thee, who art our glorious head; O let us bestow upon thy feet, thy poor members here below, our tears, our hands, our ointment, and whatever our gifts or endeavours may testify our thankfulness and love to thee in them.
O happy word ! “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her.” Methinks I see how this poor penitent revived with this breath: how new life comes into her eyes, new blood into her cheeks, new spirits into her countenance, like unto our mother earth, when in that first confusion, “God said, Let: the earth bring forth grass, the herb that beareth seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit;" all runs out into flowers, and blossoms, and leaves, and fruit. Her former tears said, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” now her cheerful smiles say, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ my Lord.”
Seldom ever do we meet with so perfect a penitent; seldom do we find so gracious a dismission. What can be wished of any mortal creature but remission, safety, faith, peace? all these are here met, to make a contrite soul happy; remissionthe ground of her safety, faith the ground of her peace, safety and salvation the issue of her remission, peace the blessed fruit of her faith.
O woman, the perfume that thou broughtst is poor and base, in comparison of those sweet savours of rest and happiness that are returned to thee! Well was that ointment bestowed, wherewith thy soul is sweetened to all eternity.
Martha and Mary. We may read long enough ere we find Christ in an house of his own. “ The foxes have boles, and the birds have
nests :" he that had all, possessed nothing. One while I see him in a Publican's house, then in a Pharisee's ; now I find him at Martha's. His last entertainment was with some neglect, this with too much solicitude. Our Saviour was now in his way; the sun might as soon stand still as he.
The more we move, the liker we are to heaven, and to this God that made it. His progress was to Jerusalem, for some holy feast. He, whose devotion neglected not any of those sacred solemnities, will not neglect the due opportunities of his bodily refreshing: as not thinking it meet to travel and preach harbourless, he diverts (where he knew his welcome) to the village of Bethany. There dwelt the two devout sisters, with their brother, his friend Lazarus ; their roof receives him. O happy house, into which the Son of God vouchsafed to set his foot! O blessed woman, that had the grace to be the hostess to the God of heaven! How should I envy your felicity herein, if I did not see the same favour, if I be not wanting to myself, lying open to me! I have two ways to entertain my Saviour, in his members, and in himself. In his members, by charity and hospitableness : “What I do to one of these his little ones, I do to him :" in himself by faith; “If any man open, he will come in and sup with him.”
O Saviour, thou standest at the door of our hearts and knockst by the solicitations of thy messengers, by the sense of thy chastisements, by the motions of thy Spirit: if we open to thee by a willing admission and faithful welcome, thou wilt be sure to take up our souls with thy gracious presence, and not to sit with us for a momentary meal, but to dwell with us for ever. Lo, thou didst but call in at Bethany; but here shall be thy rest for everlasting.
Martha, it seems, as being the eldest sister, bore the name of the housekeeper; Mary was her assistant in the charge. A blessed pair! sisters not more in nature than grace, in spirit no less than in flesh. How happy a thing is it, when all the parties in family are jointly agreed to entertain Christ!
No sooner is Jesus entered into the house, than he falls to preaching; that no time may be lost, he stays not so much as till his ineat be made ready, but, while his bodily repast was in hand, provides spiritual food for his hosts. It was bis meat and drink to do the will of his Father: he fed more upon his own diet than he could possibly upon theirs ; his best cheer was, to see them spiritually fed. How should we