2020-10-18 Forgiven Much, Loving Him Much

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          October 18, 2020

“Forgiven Much, Loving Him Much”
Luke 7:36-50

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

            Jesus, after healing a centurion’s servant (7:1-10), raising a widow’s son from the dead (7:11-17), and teaching concerning John the Baptist and Himself (7:18-35), receives an invitation to dine with Simon, a Pharisee.  Jesus accepts Simon’s invitation, and soon He takes his place at Simon’s table.  We wonder if Simon invited Jesus out of courtesy, or to learn more of the Gospel, or—as was often the case between Jesus and the Pharisees—with a view to try to trap Him in something He said, or for some other reason.  Whatever Simon’s motives may be for inviting Jesus to dine, Luke’s Spirit-led narrative moves us closer to the real reason that Jesus dines at Simon’s table that day.

            A notoriously wicked woman insinuates herself into the scene—a woman known, as we shall see, to Simon, and a woman likely known to most of the diners that day.  We do not know exactly how she came to be on Simon’s property, near his table, but we do know that she came when she learned that Jesus was dining in that house.  Luke’s first mention of her places her standing behind Jesus—carrying an alabaster box of perfume.  She weeps as she stands: perhaps in sorrow for her sins, perhaps in joy at the work of Jesus in her life, or perhaps in sorrow and joy intermingled. 

            The woman continues to weep as she behaves in an audacious manner.  She moves close to Jesus and wets His feet with her tears, and then she dries them with her hair.  This, assuredly, is not the normal mode of washing the guest’s feet.  More than this, she kisses Jesus’ feet—and that at table.  Can you imagine the feelings of awkward revulsion spreading around the table?  These are not all; the woman also anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume she brought. 

Why is she doing this?  Why is she creating such a scene?  She acts as if there is no else in the room save herself and Jesus.  She acts consistent with the state of her soul—though she acts wildly inconsistently with the social mores of the day.  She acts, moreover, not to earn Jesus’ favor, but to display the overflow of a heart favored by Him.  None of this, however, is obvious to the gathered diners, and their wonder must know no bounds.

            Indeed, Simon wonders at this scene—and at Jesus.  He doubts Jesus to be a prophet, for if He be a prophet, then He would know that the woman is a sinner—and He would distance Himself from her as fast as possible.  After all, as one commentator noted, for the pious Jew of the day, separation from sinners and their sin is the name of the game.[1]  Contrary to Simon’s expectation, then, Jesus shows Himself a prophet: first to Simon himself, for He knows Simon’s thoughts and tailors His teaching to them, and, second, to the woman, for He knows all about her, as we shall see.

            Jesus would say something to Simon, and Simon grants Jesus leave to say it.  Jesus then introduces two debtors (in what we know as the Parable of the Two Debtors) to a moneylender.  One owes five hundred denarii (about $25,000 take-home pay), and the other owes fifty denarii (about $2,500 take-home pay).  Neither could pay, and the moneylender forgives them both.  Jesus asks Simon, in the hearing of all, “Therefore, who of them will love him more?”  Simon answers correctly, and Jesus affirms his answer.  Jesus then applies the parable to the simultaneously awkward and lovely scene.

            Simon is as the lesser debtor in Jesus’ parable, and the woman is as the greater debtor.  Jesus then recites all the things Simon omitted from his hospitality—things which, ironically, the sinful woman supplied.  Simon, the allegedly squeaky-clean Pharisee, gave no water for Jesus’ feet, gave Him no kiss, and gave Him no oil for His head.  The woman, of utterly scarlet communal reputation, watered Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed His feet, and anointed His feet with the perfume.  She did what Simon ought to have done—and she did these to such a degree of affection and intimacy that the diners were uncomfortable.  Jesus then drives His point home: The woman, forgiven much, loves much—and Simon, forgiven little, loves little.

            As if this weren’t enough to consider, Jesus gives them all something else to ponder—and this raises the tension in the room even further.  Jesus, in the final verses of today’s text, forgives the woman’s sin, declares her saved, and dismisses her in peace.  The diners say among themselves (and, I imagine, with incredulity), “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”  The Spirit does not lead Luke to resolve this question.  It hangs in the air, so to speak, for our consideration.

            May the Spirit of the living God bring this teaching home to our souls.  First, Jesus forgives sinners.  He has forgiven us who are in Christ.  He has forgiven us of all our sin.  There remains nothing on our record to condemn us before God.  Not only has Jesus forgiven us, but, also, He will forgive others as they believe on Him—and they shall receive from His good hand what we who are in Him already have received.  This we display, and this we declare.

            Second, remember how much Jesus has forgiven us.  I don’t want to take you too closely back to that from which the Lord has rescued you, but I want you to think about it just enough to realize how much the Lord has forgiven you—and let this be occasion for thanks unto Him and for celebration before Him.  Let us not be as the lesser debtor, loving little and perceiving we need but slight forgiveness.  Let us be as the greater debtor, having a much greater sense of our need of grace and, thus, loving Him much.  We can esteem ourselves as great debtors, and act accordingly, only by the grace of God.  May He supply that grace, and may we think and act in concert with today’s text.

            Third, forgiven much, we love Jesus much—together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It follows that, as we love the Lord much, we love His people much.  May our love for one another in the Body of Christ be a great blessing to us and a great attraction to those yet outside Christ’s saving love.  As we love the Lord much, and His people much, let us also love those outside His saving love much.  This may be hard—maybe very hard—for us to do, but recall, when we stood outside Christ’s saving love, one or several of His beloved loved us well.  Let us do likewise.  Again, these we can do only by the grace of God working powerfully within us.  May the Lord, the Holy Spirit, let us know how much we are forgiven, and may He empower us to love—Him, Church, and world—at a level commensurate with the forgiveness we’ve received.

                                                                                                                        AMEN.

[1] The commentator is Darrell Bock, long at Dallas Theological Seminary, in his commentary on Luke.