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The Greater Debt

November 26 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 7:36-50

It’s good to be back! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. If you have a big family, then you probably saw some folks you don’t see very often. And with big family meals, there’s usually someone that enjoys making a scene or saying something completely off the wall. You know what I’m talking about. It’s usually an uncle, right? In my family it’s me. 

Our story today is like that. Jesus gets invited to a dinner party and it is full of drama. Let’s read it together – Luke 7, verse 36. 

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.  

The Pharisees were popular religious leaders, known for their emphasis on personal piety. They were expert law keepers – at least they thought they were, and so did everyone else. 

37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,  

38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 

It is commonly taught that this woman was a prostitute – and that may have been true, but not necessarily. Many women carried perfume like this. I think it is more likely that she was known as an adulterous woman, someone with the reputation of being a home wrecker. 

Either way, what she does here is shocking. She crosses all sorts of cultural barriers. Even letting down her hair like this was considered scandalous – something like wearing a bikini to church! 

And that’s what every other man at the table will see. What she’s doing is outrageous. It’s embarrassing. But Jesus let’s her do it! 

39 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.”  

Notice that he doesn’t say this out loud. He says it under his breath. 

But he immediately judges both the woman AND Jesus! His attitude is one of superiority. “What is wrong with this woman? What is wrong with Jesus? I would never do something like this! I would never let something like this happen to me!” 

And because of his self-righteousness, he is completely blind to what is actually happening. 

This woman obviously doesn’t care what they think of her. And neither does Jesus. 

40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 

Notice that Luke didn’t tell us the name of the Pharisee until now. Jesus provides his name. Notice also that Jesus proves Himself to be a prophet by answering Simon’s private thoughts. 

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  

42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  

43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  

I love that Jesus uses the word “judged”. There’s a bit of comedy here because the question was extremely simple. A young child could answer this question, and yet, Jesus tells the important religious leader – “you have judged rightly”. 

It’s also important that both debts are rather large. One is shockingly large, but both of the them owed a lot of money. 

44 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.  

45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  

46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 

Remember, Simon was an “expert” on keeping the law, including all of the customs and rituals of cleanliness.  

But he failed to show Jesus the basic hospitality required at the time. Each of these three things were expected signs of hospitality – especially to a rabbi! You were supposed to receive your guest with a kiss, anoint their head with oil, and wash their feet. Simon did none of it. 

This woman did for Jesus what the host was unwilling to do. And maybe she did it because Simon had a reputation for being a bad host! 

But more importantly, this was an act of repentance. From a distance, she came to know Jesus as a man of compassion, with the power to forgive sins. She was drawn to him, ignoring social conventions to demonstrate her love for Jesus. 

And Jesus is not embarrassed by her at all! He defends her! He exalts her! He was willing to let everyone else at the table judge him harshly for her sake! 

47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  

48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  

49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”  

50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 

What a powerful story! It may be my favorite in the Gospel of Luke. 

First, I want us to notice that loving this woman did not require Jesus to IGNORE her sins. That’s not what it means to forgive sins. In fact, Jesus publicly admits that her sins were many. 

In other words, she’s exactly the woman you think she is. She has committed many sins. Jesus says it plainly. 

And so, if we read this story and we walk away thinking that sin is not a big deal to Jesus, then we have missed the point. The point is that Jesus loves and forgives her EVEN THOUGH her sins were many. 

If we deny the reality of sin, then we will gut this beautiful story of all its meaning. Jesus is approachable and compassionate and kind, but the impact of the story is created by the amount of debt this woman brings! 

And she obviously knows this. She’s not coming to Jesus denying her many sins. She comes in humility, believing Jesus would receive her… expecting nothing, but somehow knowing that He had the power to forgive her. 

Do we understand that we come to Jesus with a great debt – all of us! We come with many sins to the feet of the only One who has the right to judge us for those sins. That’s the real scandal of this story.  

And the other people at the table seem to recognize this. They ask an obvious question, who is this who even forgives sins? 

It’s a valid question. If this woman has committed adultery, who had the power to forgive her? It would be the one she sinned against, right? The man’s wife! 

If Jesus was only a rabbi, then he did not have the power to forgive this woman on behalf of someone else. But Jesus is declaring Himself to be something more than a rabbi. And He’s changing the way we normally think about sin and repentance. 

There’s a hint of this in the Old Testament, in the story of David. David commits murder and adultery. He’s confronted by the prophet Nathan and then David writes Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance. 

Listen to what David says:  

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 

Notice, David says to God, against you and you only have I sinned. 

And we might ask, “What about Uriah?!” What about the man David murdered so that He could sleep with his wife? 

Didn’t he sin against Uriah? The answer is technically No. What he did was wrong – it was horrible. But sin is a spiritual word. It refers only to our relationship with God. The Bible teaches that only God can forgive sin, because sin is an offense against God’s law. We didn’t write the law – He did. 

Adultery is an offense against God. Murder is an offense against God. Lying is an offense against God. Disobeying your parents is an offense against God. Stealing is an offense against God. Gossip… Bitterness… Envy… these are all offenses against God. 

Sin always involves other people. But the offense is always against God. 

Jesus is able to forgive sins because He is God. That’s the claim. The other men at this table were more shocked by that claim than by anything this woman did! They stop thinking about her sin and focus on Jesus. 

And there we find the Gospel. Jesus takes their disdain for this woman on Himself. He becomes the object of judgment instead of her. And that’s exactly what happened at the cross. They crucified Jesus for claiming to be God. But it was God’s plan, that Jesus became the object of wrath for sin instead of us. Forgiveness of sins required atonement. 

But there’s one last thing I want us to notice. It’s easy to see how Jesus loves the woman. But Jesus loves Simon too. 

Simon was a terrible host. He insulted Jesus publicly! 

But how did Jesus respond? You might think that the loving thing to do would be to ignore the insult. But that’s not what Jesus did. In fact, Jesus responded with brutal, public honesty. 

Jesus is fearless and direct. He tries to reach Simon’s conscience with the parable. He invites Simon to look at the woman with different eyes. 

Jesus confronts Simon’s self-righteousness in love! He’s giving this man an opportunity to repent as well… an opportunity to see himself as a man in need of forgiveness. 

The heart of God is both tender and bold, when necessary. Sometimes He gently invites us into forgiveness and sometimes He smacks us in the self-righteous noggin. 

Jesus loves them both, and yet one of them is clearly closer to the kingdom than the other. 

What about us? Where do you see yourself in this story?  

You are either a sinner who sees your sin, or you are sinner who doesn’t see your sin. Both need the grace of God. One just doesn’t know it yet. Is that you? Is Jesus confronting your self-righteousness this morning? Your self-dependence? Is He showing you your debt?