I’ve had a handful of rather unusual teachers in my life. A shrimp of a man who’d been excommunicated from the Amish community for owning a stereo—he taught me how to shingle a roof. A wheelchair-bound country music singer and songwriter who penned one of George Strait’s hits—he taught me the fine art of woodwork. An ex-con with a string of DWI’s—he taught me the ins and outs of the work I did in the oilfield. You never know at whose feet you might learn something. I certainly never dreamed that I’d learn all about what Christian worship is from a prostitute.
The Prostitute Who Crashed the Party
She must have snuck in the house of Simon since she obviously wouldn’t have been welcomed otherwise. I can’t imagine how shocked this respectable Pharisee must have been to see that that kind of woman had crashed his party.
It was bad enough that she was there, but, dear God, what she did was even worse. A banquet was going on for the religious bigwigs in town. Their special guest that day was a newcomer named Jesus who’d been making waves amongst the Jews by doing and saying some rather unkosher things. He couldn’t be ignored so it was best to have him over and feel him out, to see what kind of man he really was.
This woman, what does she do to Jesus? He’s reclining at table, as the Jews were wont to do at their banquets, lying on his side with his feet outstretched behind him. And this whore, she appears out of nowhere, and starts crying over the feet of Jesus, drenching them with her tears. But she doesn’t stop there. She uses her hair as a towel to wipe clean his dirty feet, kisses them, and tops it all off by pouring perfume over them.
Now think about this. Those eyes, which had viewed countless men naked in her bed, drip tears that wet the feet of the Son of God. That hair, which had been splayed behind her as she lay there offering her sexual services, wipes down the feet at which angels offer adoration. Those hands, which had undressed strangers, touched their privates, held a few coins in exchange for their orgasms, those unclean, immoral, shameful hands cradled the feet of the most holy Messiah. And those lips, which had…well, done what whores do with their mouths, those lips touched the skin of the pure and spotless Lord of heaven and earth. Scandalous is too mild a term for what went down here. This was an outrage.
And these scandalous, outrageous acts of a whore are a beautiful, sacred picture of what worship is. This woman is our rabbi. Christ reveals through her what kind of worship he desires.
The Highest Way of Worshiping Jesus is to Receive
She comes to Jesus with nothing he needs, but needing everything from him. If she brings anything, it is faith—faith which itself is a gift of God. She is defiled and unclean, with her heart’s closet full of skeletons, yet still she comes. She is a pariah in polite society, shunned by the religious do-gooders, yet still she comes. She has no good works to place upon the altar of God, yet still she comes. Nothing, she comes to him who is everything. And in so doing, this most unlikely teacher makes us her students. She who wept upon, dried, and anointed those feet of Jesus—at her feet we now sit to learn what true worship is.
Consider what Jesus says. When Simon the Pharisee got his holier-than-thou panties in a wad over what this woman was doing, Jesus insulted him by pointing out how much a better host this prostitute was than he was. He was a guest in this Pharisees’ home, yet Simon had not washed his feet, had not kissed him, had not anointed his head. Yet this woman did what she did. But the real question is why. Why did she do what she did? Because she believed that he forgave her; and because of that faith, she loved Jesus. “Her sins,” Jesus says, “which are many, have been forgiven, because she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then to this prostitute, Jesus says, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The highest way of worshiping Jesus is to receive from him what this woman received: the forgiveness of sins. Of all the acts of worship in which she could engage, none was greater than coming to Jesus with faith, knowing and believing that he loved her, accepted her, forgave her, and sent her on her way in peace. Her weeping, drying, anointing—all of those were beautiful, meaningful acts of worship, but they were not the greatest. The highest act of worship is not even an act we do; it is a gift we receive.
The Prostitute in the Pew
Every Sunday, when I enter the Lord’s house, an unseen prostitute sits in the pew with me. She doesn’t say a word, but she teaches me throughout the service. No one sees her, but her every act is a lesson to me. I come to my Lord with a heart full of skeletons; I come to him as one shunned by many, especially the spiritual elite; I come to him with no righteousness of my own but gobs upon gobs of unrighteousness; I come to him with nothing, and he gives me everything. He weeps over me with tears of love and bathes away the dirt of my immorality. He wipes clean my feet, my hands, my face, my heart and soul. He anoints me with the oil of the Spirit. He bids me recline at his own table and dine on heaven’s food, drink to the dregs the bloody wine of the Father’s love. Oh, I respond. I pray, I sing, I praise, I confess. But my response, a loving and grateful response, is nothing compared to what Jesus does for me. He forgives. He gives. He floods me with gifts beyond telling, all of which flow from his cross and tomb, onto and into my open mouth, my outstretched hands, my thirsty soul.
The Daughter of God
I’ve had a handful of rather unusual teachers in my life. But none quite like her. None like the woman who taught me that the highest act of worship is not to serve God, but to be served by God; not to give to him but receive from him. Oh, how strange and wonderful our faith is, that everything I know about worship I learned from a prostitute who is the forgiven daughter of our Lord of love.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!