"Your sins are forgiven." Luke 7:48
Two main characters command our attention in the story for this week's GraceWaves (Luke 7:36-50). One is a Pharisee whose name was Simon. He had invited Jesus to eat with him. This was an act of considerable hospitality but the motive was completely disingenuous. Simon was intrigued by Jesus, but highly suspicious of Him.
The other main character is an unnamed woman whom Luke described as "a woman of the city, who was a sinner" (7:37). She also performed an act of great sacrifice, but her motive was entirely genuine and heartfelt. She brought an expensive alabaster flask of ointment, cleaned Jesus' feet with her tears and hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the oil.
Jesus understood the dynamic. He saw what was going on. In response He told the parable of the two debtors. One debtor was forgiven a sum of 500 denarii, the other owed 50. Both were forgiven. Then the question: "which one loved the creditor more?"
It's not hard to see where Jesus was heading with this story, and who represents whom in the parable. Simon thought himself a righteous man. The woman knew herself to be unrighteous. I think Simon knew where Jesus was heading too. His answer "the one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more" (7:43) sounds grudging and reluctant. Simon suspected that Jesus' set-up favored the woman.
In fact, the parable favors neither the woman, nor the Pharisee. It does not favor you or me. It does not favor the most morally upright among us. The parable favors all of us. The real point is not the amounts owed (how many people know what a denarius is?), but the fact that neither debtor could pay. They were both, large and small, unpayably in debt to the creditor. We are unpayably in debt to God, from the worst among us to the best.
Jesus had the habit of going to sinners, I mean the really obvious sinners, not the ones that are cleaned up and drive nice cars. He would go to sinners who didn’t even appear to be trying and befriend them. Jesus would be on the side of this woman, or Zaccheus who cheated everyone he could, or the woman caught in adultery, or Peter who betrayed Him. Jesus would give them all something that they did not work to receive. He gave them grace. He gave them what they did not earn. The irony is that He made the same offer to Simon. And He makes the same offer to us. Grace.
God’s grace is puzzling. I don’t really understand it. I think that God’s attempt to teach me about grace would be the equivalent of my trying to teach fractal geometry to a three year old. I don’t know fractal geometry, but I would still have a greater chance to understand it than I would to understand God’s grace. It’s inherently, eternally, wonderfully puzzling.
One step we can make toward a more grace-filled life is to call to mind "our most grievous sins." During Lent we have that special challenge. We are called to do what Simon was clearly unwilling to do, to recognize his debt and receive infinite grace.
One final quick point. Simon clearly viewed himself as superior to the woman of the streets. In his eyes she was a sinner. His unwillingness to share grace with her, limited his ability to receive grace from God. So as you confess, also forgive.
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 4, 2013