Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
36One of the Pharisees [Simon] asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, Jesus is certainly using a “teachable moment” here, isn’t he? And what a nice little story he uses too. It’s so simple and so easy to understand. Two guys owe lots of money. We’re talking a year and half’s wages for the one and a month and a half for the other. It’s a lot of money and neither of them can pay the debt so the moneylender cancels it all and send them on their way. “Who’s going to love the moneylender more?” It’s simple and obvious. The story is about loving the moneylender because he cancels debt. It’s all about forgiveness, isn’t it? God forgives our un-payable debt. We respond in love. It is straight forward. But I wonder do you see something funny in this parable? Do you see something just a little bit out of whack? I think you should. Jesus does this all the time. He tells a little story to make a point… but the story is deceptively simple. The meaning is usually buried much deeper that we think at first. And the more we dig in the more the point becomes clear. One of the best ways to understand Jesus parables is to find that little fact that seems to be out of joint… that little thing in the parable that isn’t quite right… the thing that would never happen. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know it very well. A traveler is beat up on the road. Three likely helpers just walk right by, but the unlikely helper, the man’s mortal enemy actually stops to help. And he doesn’t just help he goes above and beyond. He sacrifices himself for the sake of his enemy. The story is out of balance. The unexpected happens. And Jesus makes his point. He’s the person who sacrifices himself for his enemy, doing what is unexpected, doing the unthinkable. So what about this one? What’s out of balance here? What’s the thing that would never happen? Well, it’s not that people get into debt beyond their ability to pay. We see that every day. No, the thing that’s not as we would expect is for the money lender to cancel the debt. Now this guy is a “moneylender.” He isn’t just a relative who is helping these guys out with a little loan. He’s in the business of lending money. He’s given them money expecting his money back with interest. He’s a banker. It’s his business to make loans and collect interest. No self respecting loan shark is going to make money by canceling debt. He’d never be able to collect on any loan again. And yet, this one does cancel the debt. In spite of the tremendous debt that is owed, he lets his debtors off the hook. That’s the peak of attention here. This unlikely banker forgives the debt… of course the guys who owed him are going to love him. He’s done the unbelievable and the unthinkable. He’s not thrown them and their families into prison. He’s not broken their legs. He’s not held them accountable at all. They are walking away owing nothing. And Jesus asks the question that brings the whole point home. “Now which one will love him more?”
That brings us to the dinner, the place that Jesus told the story and the place that made for him the “teachable moment”. It also brings us to the dinner’s host. Jesus is telling this parable at a dinner feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Now let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. It’s easy for us to hear the word Pharisee and think “bad guy.” That’s not really the case. Especially in his own community Simon the Pharisee is a respected person. He’s a law abiding citizen. He’s a community leader worthy of respect. People look up to him to do what’s expected. That includes have a dinner conversation with a traveling preacher who has won the hearts of the people. So Simon invites Jesus to a festival dinner. But we also learn that Simon is a skeptic. Along with doing what’s expected he also wants to find out if Jesus is really the prophet people are saying he is. Simon apparently has his doubts. And in fact as we learn, Simon must not think very much of Jesus at all. Because even though Jesus has been invited to eat and to speak, he hasn’t been treated with even the common courtesies that are normally offered to guests. Jesus isn’t welcomed to the house warmly with the customary kiss, his feet aren’t washed to remove the remnants of the dusty road, and there is no olive oil given to cool his head. Simon wants Jesus to show his true colors, but Simon already thinks he knows who Jesus is and what he is not. That’s what the dinner really is about. But he doesn’t expect Jesus is worth all the fuss.
Now there is something unexpected that happens here, too. The party is crashed by and unexpected guest. “A woman of the city, who was a sinner,” comes in and makes a scene. And what a scene it is. Uninvited, she does what Simon the host has neglected to do. She washes Jesus feet. She pours oil on him and she greets him with a kiss, but not in the normal sense at all. There’s no towel and basin, it’s not ordinary oil, or even regular manner of kissing. It’s all out of the ordinary and unexpected. She washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She uses expensive myrrh instead of common olive oil. And the kisses she gives, well they go overboard. Not a kiss of greeting on the cheek, but non-stop kisses on Jesus’ feet. It’s safe to say that even though it all seems to be going overboard; this woman is expressing great love for Jesus. And, it seems, in many ways she doesn’t think she’s doing enough. She makes a scene, and she doesn’t care what people think.
For Simon the whole scene is disgusting and it confirms his suspicions of Jesus. Simon is thinking “Well, that settles it… he’s no prophet… no self respecting prophet would let a woman like that touch him like that.” In his mind the dinner is over. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Nothing Jesus could say now would be important for him to hear. This woman doesn’t belong in his house and neither does Jesus.
And that’s the teachable moment… “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Go ahead teacher.” Simon replies lightly.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
“Well,” Simon answered carefully sensing a trap, “I guess the one who had the bigger debt.”
“You have judged rightly.” And then Jesus himself breaks all the rules of common courtesy as he points out Simon’s failures, “Simon, you see this woman. All the things that you should have done for me when I came to your house, she has done, and even more. You didn’t wash my feet; she did it with her tears and hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss; she can’t stop kissing my feet. You didn’t even give me simple oil for my head but she has put expensive oil my feet. Her sins, which you know as well as I they are many, are really completely forgiven. Her love is like the love of one who has had a great debt forgiven, because she has been forgiven much. Those who have been forgiven only a little bit, only love a little bit.” For Simon and his guests the point is obvious. Her sins are forgiven by Jesus, her love for Jesus shows that it is true. “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus confirms. This woman, sinner that she is, sees Jesus for who he really is. He has forgiven her sins. She owes him everything. Simon hasn’t even showed the least amount of love to Jesus, he has shown only contempt and doubt. Simon is not the debtor who loves much. But it is also true that Simon is not the debtor who loves little. Actually it’s far worse than that for him. Simon sees no need for forgiveness at all. All he can see is a sinful woman who is overdoing it.
And what do we see? Is it all too theatrical for us? The wetting of Jesus feet with tears and wiping them with hair; Kissing his feet and anointing them with oil? Does it seem to us to be overdone, bordering on hysterical? Do we sit with Simon thinking that we are better than she is? Well maybe that’s because we haven’t fully come to grips with the debt we owe? Or the price paid to cancel it. We can easily find examples of our loveless ness; our failures to be welcoming to people who we don’t want around here. So much of our life is spent as if Jesus doesn’t mean anything at all us. We don’t want to make a scene in public. We are afraid to show our love for Jesus outside of these walls. We don’t defend the truth that he teaches us in his Word. And when we do make a public statement of faith, it is usually so generic that could very well be any god at all we refer to. But our problem is more than just a little stage fright. And we well know the problem is much deeper than that. Sin is so much a part of our every day life, so much a part of us and everything that we do, that we can’t get rid of it. No matter how much effort we give, we can’t remove it. No amount of tears will drive it away from us. Jesus didn’t forgive the woman because she showed him great love. She was forgiven because she knew that she was helpless to do anything about her sin. She was forgiven because in her great need for forgiveness she turned to the One she knew could forgive.
Jesus Christ didn’t become human flesh to dine with angels. God became a living breathing man to come into contact with living breathing, and sinful people. The point of the parable, the point of Luke whole account of this “teachable moment” is that God does what isn’t expected, he does what he doesn’t have to do. The debt we owe is more than we can pay. It’s not the amount that matters. Any debt that one is unable to pay is trouble. A poisonous snake is deadly poison even at a few inches. Our debt of sin can be paid only with our death and eternal separation from God. The woman’s sins were forgiven by the skin and blood, and innocent suffering and death of the very flesh that she knelt and kissed with her own lips. The body that she washed with tears and dried with her hair was the very body that was pinned to the cross for her sins. The oil that she poured on his feet was poured on the very place that iron would pierce for her. Now when we see the cost of the debt, and the greatness of our sin for the first time we may not break down in tears, but we can better understand the woman doing what this woman has done.
Jesus forgives your unpayable debt. The sin that seeps up from the darkness that is in your heart has been taken care of by him. The amount of the debt isn’t important. You need what Jesus did just as much as the “sinner from the street.” You need the forgiveness Jesus gives just as much as the “delinquent” members of our church. So today, sinners that we are, we turn to Jesus, the only one who can forgive. We may not drop our tears on his feet, or pour any oil, but our love is great, because we know that we know how much we have been forgiven. There is an old hymn that says it as well as I could.
Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
By: Augustus M. Toplady
1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure:
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
2. Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my seal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.
3. Nothing n my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Savior, or I die.
4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Hymn # 361 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Thomas Hastings Tune: Toplady 1st Published in: 1776
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.