Saturday, April 15, 2023

Sinned Much, Forgiven Much: Luke 7:36-50

This is a rather short parable. It distills Jesus' actions towards an outcast in His society, and reminds us that "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:7, NIV)

Let's set the scene:

"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them."

Whoa.  A Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner.  Hmmm.  Is this genuine? 

Hey Jesus!  You are always surrounded by such crowds that I really want to talk with You, one on one, in a small intimate setting. Come have supper with me.  To dine with someone, as You know Jesus, is not just eating together, but a demonstration of true friendship.  I do want to be your friend.

Or, is it...

I want to get this Jesus away from the crowds, so I can see what makes Him tick. So much is said about Him.  I want to see for myself.  I am extending the invitation of friendship, but I am not sure I really want Him as my friend.  I am confused about Him, for my fellow Pharisees excoriate Him on a regular basis.  Who is He, really?

Whatever the motivation, Jesus accepts the invitation and reclines at table with this Pharisee.  Were the disciples there?  They are not mentioned either, but that doesn't preclude them from being there.  Jesus was invited, and was it assumed that the disciples would come along?   

But, suddenly, there is an uninvited guest.  She found out that Jesus is in town (gossip amongst the townspeople?) and she makes her way there.  What is she thinking?

I know who I am.  I am sure the Master does as well.  Leave it to Simon to tell Him about me as soon as I show up.  I know.  I am unclean, and entering the dwelling of a righteous man (two strikes against me right there--righteous and a man) and walking in.  I have heard of the Master--His kindness, His willingness to forgive, and His gentle touch on those who need it most.  I don't care what anyone says.  I am going in.  Let Simon be surprised. I don't care.  I wonder: What will the Master say to me?

I find it interesting no one bars her from coming in.  But because she came in from behind Jesus, beyond the oil lamps' light, was she not noticed in the shadows?  Being in the shadows sums up this poor woman's life.   

Oh, there He is.  His presence is so sweet, and He doesn't turn around angrily, even though Simon is shocked beyond words.  I need to do what I came to do before Simon demands I leave.  Yes, I know how I earned the money to buy such expensive perfume. But its sweet aroma dances with Jesus' sweet aroma.  I cannot help but cry. I am so unworthy to even face this precious Man.  I will anoint His feet as I stand behind Him. Oh, I cannot help but cry.

Simon is mortified.  Did he offer, as a good host, to wash Jesus' feet, or was he so excited to have Jesus in his house (where he could pummel Him with questions) that he forgot to play the host? Did he have a rather hurried greeting and just wanted to get down to business by questioning Jesus?  

But this woman, this outcast, anoints His feet with this fragrant perfume, acting out of utter love for Jesus. 

I have no towel, no way to wipe His feet.  I try to wipe the tears from my eyes, but they just come.  I know, I know:  I will use my hair, to wipe His feet.  I know, I know, this not how it is done.  But nothing today is how it's done in my world. 

Let continue with the Biblical narrative:  

"When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.'

Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.'

'Tell me, teacher,' he said.

'Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?'

Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.'

'You have judged correctly,' Jesus said."

Jesus went to the heart of the matter:  One heart was hardened with self-righteousness, and one heart was hardened with self-loathing.  So, Jesus uses this story to illustrate that those whose debts (sins) are, by their estimation, rather small, may not rejoice at the forgiveness offered to them.  Those whose debts (sins) are enormous, will never forget how it felt when they were released from such a heavy burden.

Neither person had the resources to pay the debt back; the moneylender was under no obligation to release them from their debts; he did so out of love and compassion, and wanted to see them be free.   

Jesus uses the word, "judge" and I find a double meaning in that:  A pharisee was called on all the time to make judgments and ruling, and he has, in this instance, judged correctly, in his world. 

But is Jesus intimating that he has judged correctly in a new realm, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus has not stopped proclaiming since the start of His ministry?  In other words, Simon has seen how much more liberating it is to have so much forgiven.

Then, to drive the point home, Jesus turns towards the woman, (she is behind Him) and then inquires of 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.'

Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.'

The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?'

Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'"

Can you imagine how this woman felt, as she headed home?  Did she run, skipping and laughing all the way and not caring one iota about those staring at her?  Jesus released her from her enormous debt, and gently bids her adieu.  She now leaves as a child of the Kingdom of God.

Simon?  Well, his guests have their knickers in a twist.  What did he do?  

We don't know, but when he laid his head down that night, I am sure that he felt the weight of his sin as he had never done so before:  being in God's presence has a way of reminding us of how short we have fallen.  Yet, also being in God's presence urges us to lay that sin down and to rise up free and forgiven.

I would like to think Simon was one of those people who got it. 

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