By the first century the strict interpretation of the Pharisees and Sadducees replaced the office of the Levitical priesthood which God designed centuries before. Today Christian readers of the Bible are conditioned to instantly recognize the two sects as the villains of the story, not unlike the early moviegoers who knew to boo and hiss when the mustachioed man with a cape appeared onscreen. It is difficult to bend our perspective to that of the time and understand that these men knew more about the scriptures than anyone and followed it almost to the letter. It is difficult for us to see them as heroes and yet that is in a sense what they were to the people. What is even harder is to admit that they were right about you and I.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus made this debilitating pronouncement: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees were right about the absolute need for absolute holiness.
At one point in the gospel of Luke Jesus was a guest in the home of Simon the Pharisee. A woman that Luke describes as “a woman of the city, a sinner” heard where Jesus was and somehow made her way into the house. As she began to anoint the feet of Jesus with an incredibly precious ointment and wipe his feet with her tears and hair and kisses Simon said to himself that if Jesus were truly a prophet then he would know what kind of woman this was. Simon did not even need to mention the further implication that if Jesus knew her he would never permit her to do this. Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
At this point those who are used to this sort of gospel story may think that Simon does not know the woman but they certainly do. She’s secretly a good woman, which Jesus can see but no one else in the room can. We are ready for him to reveal her true self to Simon and put him in his place.
But Simon was right about the woman. In fact, he had her nature pegged. The person he was wrong about was Jesus.
Jesus does know the sinfulness of the woman weeping at his feet. He knows you and he knows me. The real me, the one that I don’t even always know. But by knowing me more than I realize he loves me more than I realize. Simon did not know himself as he should have. That is why Jesus turns his remark back on him in order to show him his heart of pride. While the Pharisees were right about our need for holiness before God they were wrong about the means of holiness. Jesus said to the woman in this account that it was her faith that saved her and she could now go in peace.
You will be mistaken about others and even about yourself until you are no longer mistaken about Jesus.