June 12, 2016: 3rd Sunday after Trinity


TEXT: Luke 7: 36-50

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

I like our text. I like it especially because it treats of the biggest spiritual problem we all face: denial over who we really are as people, and it does so by coupling together the two biggest loves in our lives: self-righteousness and money.

Simon the Pharisee was both rich and very, very self-righteous. Unlike most other Pharisees—a political party of strict Jewish zealots—Simon wasn’t openly hostile to Jesus. He knew Jesus was unorthodox in that He often hung out with the “lesser” undesirable members of society. Simon was of the opinion that the Holy Spirit only wanted to consort with holy people and that His prophets should do likewise. Now, since Jesus had prophetic powers and healed people (recall He had just healed the centurion’s servant) Simon figured Jesus wouldn’t mind hanging out with him—for he engaged in holiness of living, at least in his own eyes. So, the dinner invite went out and Jesus graciously accepted. We find them now reclining around Simon’s table—that’s the way they ate in those days.

Suddenly a woman comes in and stands behind Jesus. Luke says: “she had lived a sinful life in that town.” We don’t know what made her notorious enough to warrant this little aside, but everyone is taken aback. She is not identified as Mary Magdalene as some suggest. She is not identified as a prostitute, although that might well have been. Simon is uncomfortable to say the least. She stands behind Jesus weeping. Her tears drip on Jesus’ feet. Simon is getting more upset by the minute. Here he had planned a nice dinner party and THIS had to occur! Then she kneels down, undoes her hair and begins to wipe Jesus’ feet with her tresses. Moreover, to top it all off, she produces and opens an alabaster jar full of very expensive perfume worth a boatload of money and pours it on Jesus’ feet! She anoints His feet! Simon is squirming. Jewish women didn’t do such things! It spoke of a familiarity that was unholy to him!

“When the Pharisee (Simon) 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.” Of course, Jesus knew her heart and He knew Simon’s as well. After all, He is the Son of God and knows our every thought. He knew this woman was truly repentant and was trying to show it the best way she could. He knew Simon was self-righteous and thought God owed him instead of the other way around. And so, Jesus goes on to tell a story of a money-lender and two debtors. Simon thinks: “What’s going on? Where is this leading?” His discomfort grows.

In the story, neither man could pay off the debt he owed. Yet, unlike any loan shark Simon had ever heard of, this money-lender forgives the debt of both men free and clear! To the first man he forgave a $5000 debt. To the second, a debt of $50,000! Simon is confused. Then comes the question from Jesus: “Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon is now on surer ground, or so he thought. He can relate to this. He gives the logical answer: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus response: “You have judged correctly” had Simon feeling better. Who doesn’t like their ego stroked? But Jesus immediately goes on to crush Simon’s smug comfortableness. Turning to the woman, He actually addresses Simon: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet (a traditional Jewish custom of good manners), but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (Simon is now on the hot seat.) You did not give me a kiss (another Jewish custom of greeting—think Judas in Gethsemane for a negative example of this), but this woman from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. (Thereby showing ultimate respect.) You did not put oil on my head (another mark of honor) but she has poured perfume on my feet. (Simon now is red in the face.) Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Various churches and various Christians make a hash of this passage. They think it means that human beings must first show their love for God and others by doing various good works in order to earn forgiveness. They say: “She is forgiven because she loves much.” All this as if true love on our part precedes true forgiveness on God’s part. Not true! It is a result clause in the Greek text. It really means: “She is forgiven and as a result she loves much.” In other words: BIG LOVE COMES FROM BIG FORGIVENESS.

Simon was a pompous man. He gloried in all the humanly noble things he did in life compared to other people. What he could not see is how delusional he really was. He lived in his own little self-constructed world. He could not see himself as others saw him and he wasn’t willing to examine his own heart and judge himself against God’s Word of truth. He is a parallel to King David in today’s OT lesson, who failed to see his own evil intentions until Nathan said those famous, condemning words: “You are the man!”

As Christians all of us have a Simon and David side to our lives. We’re much more willing to criticize our neighbor and point out the splinter in his or her eye while ignoring the 2×4 in our own eye. And like Simon, we just go merrily on ignoring our inner harshness towards others because we wear a smile. This woman was brutally honest with herself and God. She left everything she had on the floor puddled at Jesus’ feet—including every vestige of her pride. Unlike Simon, there was no more inner hypocrisy left in her. And yes, Simon is convicted of his hypocrisy by his own words! He knows Jesus is speaking about her and him! Yet he cannot even bring himself to acknowledge the point of the parable. He doesn’t use her name. He just responds: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

The guests murmured their discomfort over this exchange. “Who is this who even forgives sins?”—Thereby showing that they didn’t really accept Christ’s divinity. Yet, Jesus has important work to do—to comfort this hurting woman by applying heavenly salve to her hurting conscience. Hence the remark: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Do you think this woman was stingy with her love for others during the rest of her life? Do you think she practiced conditional love or unconditional love? And what about you? Hasn’t Christ totally forgiven all your sins—including your failures to address your own inner hypocrisy—on the cross? Hasn’t He poured out not just tears in Gethsemane, but blood for you at Golgotha? Hasn’t He anointed you at your baptism and fed your soul at communion?

The moral to the story is this: Don’t live in a state of denial about who and what you really are. We’re all sinners. Period. God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t rank sins. Either you’re perfect or you’re not. You cannot con God like you do other people. He sees your heart. The question is: Do you, like this woman, see and trust in His love for you; or do you like Simon, trust in yourself? Big love comes from big forgiveness. And only Jesus can make both of them truly “big” because Jesus is God! Amen