Let’s set the scene. The miracle worker has been invited into the home of a religious zealot for a meal. It is quite the spot to be on this particular afternoon. Although the host has not honored the miracle worker/itinerant preacher as the most important guest, the meal is without issue. Until a woman of ill repute hears of the party and decides to crash it just to spend time with this mystical man. The woman makes quite the scene, weeping at the feet of this man and pouring perfume on him. She is behaving poorly and is arguable so “unclean” that no one in attendance dare speak of her let alone touch her to have her removed.
Those of you reading the one year Bible can finish the story but for the rest of us, Luke tells us what happens.
“Now 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.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“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?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:39-49
I have to be honest. I hated this text for a long time. Not because Jesus forgives or punks the Pharisee. But because I thought it made a distinction between those with a sordid past and those more pure. Think of it this way; have you ever been at a group where people were telling their life story and specifically how they came to faith in Christ? What stories impressed you? The juicy ones right? Some of us hate these settings, at least when it is our turn. We begin with caveats like “well I grew up in the church so my story is pretty boring…” The problem though is not that this parable paints a distinction between the pure and less well behaved but that too often we respond as the Pharisee thinking our story is too “boring.”
Part of my current writing project is the collection and editing of personal stories of faith and I think people are generally uninterested in sharing their story when it doesn’t include glamorous sin and brokenness. But this parable is not about having a worse story and loving Jesus more. I think it is truly about being capable of recognizing our sin and the magnitude of Christ’s forgiveness for us.
This is not about loving Jesus more when you have “sinned” more, this is about realizing how great a gift you have been given in him. The Pharisee missed it. And for too long I missed it. I wonder if you might have as well.
The reality is that all of us carry a debt that deserves death and punishment for our sin and rebellion against God. It is the ultimate of equality – it is something all of humanity experiences whether we admit it and claim it or not. It is when we recognize this equality that we are astonished by Christ’s forgiveness and work to make us heirs with him. The woman crashing the party got it.
All of us are evil and in need of a savior. It is this truth that we reflect upon during Holy Week and we celebrate the resolution on Easter. We are all poised to love much as we are forgiven much. Join me in the number of those that love much today.
Thank you Jesus for the magnitude of your forgiveness and grace to me.