Read Luke 7:36-50
This parable is a good opportunity to work in one of my favorite proverbs—the borrower is slave to the lender. That one has had my attention for many years. I don’t like debt. Perhaps the financial debt owed in the parable is not really the central part.
We could make some connections with Paul’s counsel that the only debt we should continue is the debt to love one another. That’s a good figurative way to put things as we work out—live out our salvation. There are some connections to be made to the parable before us, but the story here is perhaps more connected to our human nature.
Jesus told the parable to a Pharisee, and those gathered in his presence. As we read through this pericope that includes this parable, we discover that the host’s name is Simon. Simon had invited Jesus to dine with him. Jesus accepted, arrived, and reclined at the table to have a meal with this man who by all current religious standards was a righteous man.
To the modern-day reader, it might seem that things were off to a good start; however, Jesus got the second-class treatment.
In what way?
If a guest was coming to your house, you were expected to greet him. A kiss or two on the cheek would have been the norm. As the host, you would offer your guest some water to was his feet. If you had servants, they would do the washing for the guest. In a home with a considerate host, he or a servant might offer oil for the head.
You would at least go through the motions to make your guest feel welcome. There were basic protocols to be observed. Jesus didn’t just drop in. He was invited. He was an invited guest. Someone should have made him to feel welcome.
What is it to feel welcome?
When I was assigned to the United Nations there were 20 American officers. Half of them were Army officers and the rest were Marine, Navy, and Air Force. My group shared an apartment in Kuwait City that each of us actually stayed in about 2 or 3 days a month when we weren’t in or around the DMZ. Our schedules varied.
Normally if you got a day or two back at the apartment, you might see a couple of the other residents for a day. Seldom was everyone there at once, but regardless of whether there was 1 or there were 10 American officers there, there was a greeting and excitement when someone arrived.
On one occasion, I recall being greeted as the 4th or 5th of the apartment’s residents to arrive that day. Then gradually over the next few hours, the other half of our contingent arrived. With each arrival, the intensity of the greeting increased. It was something special. There was no protocol for this. It was not required, but the celebration was surely necessary.
If you have ever lived in another part of the world for an extended period, especially in one where your operations were run by the United Nations, there is just something special about getting together with your American friends. Greetings and excitement built with each arrival, every time. There were no exceptions. You were always made to feel welcome every time your arrived.
Jesus went to dine with Simon, who had invited him, and he just walked in and reclined at the dinner table. There is no greeting or fanfare or anything that might indicate that Jesus was not only invited, but welcomed in this place.
At some point while people were dining, a woman of less than reputable character entered the dining area and washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and her hair. She had some expensive perfume and put that on him as well.
Simon’s thoughts—revealed to us by Jesus—were if this man were a prophet or a man of God in any capacity, then he would know what kind of woman was touching him. Surely, if this Jesus was a Rabbi, then he knew better than to let any woman touch him.
Jesus knew Simon’s thoughts but instead of just calling him out on what he was thinking, he proffers a story. Simon agrees to listen.
Two men owed the same money lender money. One owed almost 2 years wages and the other almost 2 months wages. Neither could repay. Think back to the borrower is slave to the lender. This is not a good position for either man.
Without explanation, the man cancels both debts. I wish this guy was in charge of our nation’s student loans or at least available the next time I need a new car. He cancelled both debts.
I think both men were ecstatic. This was huge. This man who had made these loans forgave both men their debts.
Jesus asked Simon, “Which one will love him more.”
Simon doesn’t want to stick his neck out too much, perhaps warry of how others have come out of encounters with Jesus. So he says, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.”
How much more half-heartedly can you answer a no-brainer question like this? Of course, the one who just had two years wages forgiven loves him more. That’s within our human nature. Both surely are endeared to this man whom they owed money and received a clean slate, but two year’s wages; that’s big time.
Jesus does tell Simon that he answered the question correctly, but Jesus does something here that we do not see with all parables. He makes application to his current audience.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Simon surely thought himself a righteous man. He had surely sinned, but likewise he most certainly made the appropriate sacrifices to restore his righteous standing. Somewhere along the way, he must have overlooked his own judgmental nature.
He surely condemned the woman who came into his house and Jesus who let her touch him. He should have known better, especially, if he wants to be one of us.
For all of Simon’s education and stature, it was the woman who knew who held forgiveness. For all of the protocols that had been broken that day, it was the woman who knew what was most important. For all of the invitations that had been issued for this meal, it was this uninvited woman who had been invited into the Kingdom of God.
All that the self-righteous guests could think of was, “Who is this guy that he thinks he can forgive sins?”
This guy is not playing by the rules!
“Who is this guy that he thinks he can forgive sins?” Had they truly sought the answer to that question, it would have been a life changing day for them as well.
Jesus wraped up what we know about this encounter by speaking to the woman. He has told her that her sins are forgiven. Next, he told her to go in peace. Your faith has saved you.
There is a little something to chew on in verses 47 and 50. Translations vary in verse 47. Some translations lead you to believe that the woman was forgiven because of her actions; yet, others suggest that her love was in response to her forgiveness.
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.
As her great love has shown are powerful words. They say that she loved not to obtain forgiveness but because she had been or knew with certainty that she would be granted forgiveness because of who Jesus was. In this woman, we see both hope and faith producing love.
In verse 50 Jesus told her that her faith has saved her. Just as Jesus knew the thoughts of Simon, he also knew the faith of this woman. She loved Jesus in response to his forgiveness that she had faith to believe would come. She was already loving him back for what she knew with certainty he would do for her.
We have seen faith in Jesus result in healing. Now we see it resulting in forgiveness. This faith produced the acts of love that we witness in this account, and the woman knew how great her forgiveness was.
We could stop right there and know that we have a good understanding of this parable. But I challenge each of us to have a good understanding of ourselves and the grace that we have received as well.
Are we excited about the forgiveness—the grace—that we have received? Would we be more excited if someone paid off our mortgage or 5 years of our car payments?
Do we meditate upon our debt that was cancelled by the blood of Jesus? Does that thought bring joy to our hearts?
While the parable comes from Luke’s gospel, consider the words of John in his first letter. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
How easy is it to forget the magnitude of the grace that we need day after day and week after week and for some of us decade after decade? When we forget how great God’s love is, we shrink back from loving our neighbor into the cynical mode of judging them.
We live in a very cynical and caustic world. Acrimony and vitriol are the order of the day; yet, God’s love and mercy and grace and favor are poured out on us in the middle of a world that does not love God.
The 4th chapter of Revelation takes us to the throne room in heaven. What a sight! Seeing One with the appearance of jasper and ruby seated on a throne as John looked across a crystal clear, glassy sea. I am sure that he was overwhelmed, as we all would be.
And around the throne were four creatures who said or sang day and night:
Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.
How could anyone or anything be prepared and able to sing for all eternity? Perhaps, the better question is how could we not? Having all of our debts cancelled—our slate of sins wiped clean—how could we not respond by singing the praises of our Lord God Almighty!
It might be a new song that we sing, but we will be proclaiming God’s holiness and righteousness and wisdom and glory and we will never grow tired of it.
As we sometimes identify with characters in stories, I hope that we identify more with the woman than the Pharisees in this parable. The Pharisee took his life and relationship with God for granted. There was little self-examination. There was condemnation of others. There was a matter-of-factness about life in general.
The woman still knew the wonder of life and the magnitude of forgiveness. She humbled herself before the One who held her future. Her life may have been a poor specimen of righteousness, but her heart lead her to repentance.
I hope that we never become complacent in the righteousness given to us. I hope that we are ready to respond to the grace that we know with love and thanksgiving and joy and praise for our Lord.
While I doubt that there are many murderers or rapists or people that we might regard as truly bad people among us in this assembly; we all have had a great debt forgiven. We have been forgiven a lifetime of sins, some of which we have not even committed yet.
We all have been forgiven much. Should we not respond to God by loving much?
Like the heavenly beings surrounding the throne in heaven, are our hearts not already singing:
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.
Today, we don’t wash the feet of our guests or anoint them with oil and lavish them with expensive perfume. We have other customs and traditions, but our response to great forgiveness is still great love.
The 2017 model for washing the feet of Jesus in response to our undeserved forgiveness is loving God by loving one another. We must never forget that the command to love one another is rooted in great forgiveness.
Let our hearts sing Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, while our hands and feet respond to what the Lord God Almighty has done for us in Christ Jesus with great love for one another.
Part of our discipleship is that we love much. We love much!
Let our response to God’s grace be great love.