Luke 7:36-50 “Forgiving Our Debts”
Don’t you just love a dinner party? This last Sunday at our evening Bible Study, someone asked how it was that our study of the Bible, which had started out with really just a time of purely studying the Bible, had become this whole dinner party. Then, it was remembered that our dear sister Sally Molander, who is now feasting up in heaven with God, would invite the bible study group over to her house. She said that she had to cook dinner anyway, might as well have everyone over. She had such a gracious heart.
When we consider the story that Tom read aloud for us from the pulpit this morning, we might tend to read into it that the Pharisee who invited Jesus might have had some evil intent of entrapment in mind when he brought Jesus into his home. Yet, the bible does not really say that. We just tend to infer evil intent of all Pharisees even though we know that there were some Pharisees who were sided with Jesus. We recall specifically Nicodemus, Matthew, and Joseph of Arimathea.
Some theologians point to the fact that Simon the Pharisee did not show good hospitality to Jesus. Jesus was, for instance, no offered a foot washing or a holy kiss upon his arrival. However, this might have just been a careless oversight. Another explanation would be that this Simon has been connected perhaps with Simon the Leper of the Gospels. There are some similarities. This might also explain why Simon did not kiss Jesus. Yet, it is unclear. If he had been a leper, I think Luke would have mentioned this. However, I do believe that the Pharisee invited Jesus to the meal because he felt he needed to experience healing in his own life.
I want us to consider the woman who anointed Jesus as well. For sure, she was not invited into the house for the meal. The question is how did she slip past the guards at the main gate? She must have snuck in, right? Or, was she a regular visitor to the house, and the sin that she carries has something to do with the Pharisee? Why didn’t the Pharisee, Simon, simply have her removed? How is it that she is allowed to sneak in and touch Jesus at all?
I must make sure that we see this happening in the proper light and with the scene laid out correctly. Most of the time we see this scene with Jesus seated on a stool or a chair with the woman in front of him. Think back to all the representations in artwork and movies. Yet, the Bible is clear that the woman was actually behind Jesus. More likely than not, Jesus would have been reclining on the ground, leaning on his left side. So, now we can imagine correctly that the woman is at the feet of a reclining Jesus. The food of the feast is in front of Jesus, and the woman is leaning over his feet from behind.
As she leans over Jesus, we see that her hair is falling forward, touching his feet. From behind the hair fall is an obscured face of a sorrowful woman that is shedding tears. She uses her hair then to wipe away her own tears.
Why is she crying? All that the bible tells us is that she is a sinner. We actually do not know or even really have any clue as to what this woman’s sin might be. Did she use the Lord’s name in vain? Did she break the Sabbath? Did she kill someone? Did she steal? Did she covet or commit adultery? In those days, it was really easy to “sin” and become therefore a sinner because of the myriad sub-statutes that were enforced by the Pharisees. Is she a sinner because she touched pork? Maybe she ate shellfish? Remember how Jesus got in trouble with this same group for simply healing on the Sabbath?
You know, in our times today, we spend a whole lot of time and energy (especially in our politics) with this very issue of “Who did what wrong?” A couple of years ago, an acquaintance sent a picture out on a social media site about the horrors of ISIS, that being the once powerful now decimated Islamic State in Syria. The picture showed a man with a black hood over his head kneeling before a firing squad. What I noticed right away in the picture was that the ten or so men with machine guns that surrounded the hooded prisoner were standing in a circle. It was the infamous “circular firing squad.” If they all shot at once, they would most likely all die!
Okay, here we go: This is the core of the Christian message and why Jesus went to the Cross! It makes absolutely no difference what we have done wrong in our lives. And, when we start pointing out others’ sins, we have joined that circular firing squad. Humans do wrong because we are human. We fail because no matter how hard we try in this life to get things right by God, we fail.
Personally none of us should care what sin this woman has in her life. Apparently even Jesus is not concerned with the particulars of her failings. She is now remorseful and repentant. She is shedding tears at the feet of her Lord. Let all who have sinned, not point fingers at other people (like the Pharisees) but rather come to that realization of brokenness with a contrite heart. Let us all bow at the feet of Jesus with tears in our eyes.
Not only with tears in her eyes, wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair, the woman anoints Jesus and actually is kissing his feet. She brings an alabaster jar with precious salve. This woman is not poor. Maybe she is actually of the pharisaical class herself? She is not there to eat at the feast, or to even come forward. She stays behind Jesus and soothes him. Where would you want to be? I would want to get behind Jesus myself!
I love the fact that she takes the precious oil and anoints Jesus. If you recall last week, there was a question being answered by John the Baptist as to who Jesus actually was. The people are calling Jesus “A great prophet.” The Pharisees at the feast now refer to Jesus as a great prophet. Yet, this sinner woman knows who Jesus is! He is the Christ! “Christ” means “anointed.” Amazingly we see the sinner anointing Christ—not the Pharisees! Once Jesus has the oil upon him, everyone can see that he has been anointed, that he is the Christ. Cannot you see that Jesus is the anointed one? How can you miss it?!
This last Thursday morning the West Kauai Ministers were meeting down at Salt Pond beach for our time of fellowship and prayer. Pastor Merritt of the Baptist church here in town brought coffee. There was also that powdered creamer in a plastic jar. We opened it up to put in the coffee, and all of us got covered by white creamer as the wind gusted in that moment. “Look, we are all anointed!” said another pastor. You could just see it on us. So it was with Christ: Everyone could see at the meal that he was the anointed one!
The host objects inwardly. The bible says that he spoke inwardly (that would be a good translation of the Greek). Jesus hears his private thoughts and reacts. Yes, Jesus can hear our private thoughts. If that is not a reason why we all need forgiveness, I do not know what is.
Jesus gives the parable to the two debtors. The creditor, realizing that neither can pay (that is neither can redeem themselves), forgives, relieves, excuses the burden of debt, both large and small. Jesus then asks the question, “Which would love more? The one who is forgiven a little or a lot?”
Lest we miss the connection that Jesus is making here, let me point it out to you most plainly: Love and forgiveness are tied together in spiritual sense. We can think of it like this: If we do not forgive, then we cannot love. If we do not love, we cannot forgive. Jesus goes so far as to infer that the greater we love, the greater is our capacity to forgive.
All of this being said, I must point out one interesting fact about this story in Luke: The woman who is a sinner does not even ask Jesus for forgiveness. She is behind Jesus washing his feet wither tears because SHE SIMPLY LOVES JESUS! Jesus granting her the forgiveness is merely a response to her love being displayed to him in that moment. That’s cool. Jesus in fact never commands us to forgive everybody. He commands us all to love God and one another. If we are doing that, then the forgiveness seems to voluntary reflex.
The Pharisee is not happy when Jesus forgives her. He is not happy that she loves on Jesus first. He is just not a very happy Pharisee. I feel for him—especially when Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has saved you!” She is awarded salvation. She just got forgiven and therefore redeemed to the life eternal in the Kingdom of God. She has been invited to the greater feast with Jesus in heaven.
Well, it can be our hope that the rest of the people in that house for the feast that day understood what just happened. Maybe in seeing and hearing the interaction between Jesus and the woman there would be tears in their own eyes. Maybe they would see that Jesus is truly the anointed one. Maybe their hearts would be filled with love rather than intrigue and suspicion.
Strangely, Luke does not share the follow-up with the rest of the characters in this part of the Gospel. Of course, the question we ask of these others should be the question we ask of ourselves: Can we love Jesus so much? Are we behind Jesus with tears in our eyes? Are we ready to be forgiven? Are we ready for the faith that can save us?