He who is forgiven much, loves much. In today’s Gospel, he is a she – a “woman of the city,” a streetwalker, a prostitute who crashes a Pharisee’s dinner party with Jesus and receives so much more than she could dare to ask.
It was a gutsy move on her part. She slips in unnoticed, sneaks behind the table, crouches down at the feet of Jesus. She ignores the hard stares of the men at the table. Religious men who saw so clearly the sinful specks in the eyes of other, but failed to see the beam sticking out of their own eyes. She knew what they thought of her. She was a sinner, unfit for their company or that of a respectable messiah. “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.”
They are sinners too, every bit as great as she is. Failing to see their own sin, they fail also to see Jesus for who He is for her and for them – the Savior of sinners. That’s what religion will do to you. Blind you to your sin and turn you into a hypocrite, an actor hiding behind a mask of piety and respectability. She has no such mask behind which to hide, no pretensions of piety. Her tears are genuine, tears of shame and brokenness. What caused her to be a “woman of the city”? Why did she have to resort to selling her body to men who used her as a commodity for pleasure and then discarded her? Were any of those men sitting at Simon’s table? As recent headlines demonstrate so well, those who protest the loudest about the lack of morality in others are guilty of the same.
Her tears bathe Jesus’ feet. She anoints them with perfume from an alabaster flask, the tools of her trade are her offering to Jesus. When He was a little child, some magi from the eastern lands came to worship Him with gold, incense, and myrrh. Now He is worshipped in the same way by a woman of the city. She massages the ointment into His tired feet, and if that weren’t outrageous enough, she lets her hair down and dries His feet with her.
Here is a man who understands her, who accepts her as she is, who loves her as no other man in her life. Here was a man who would not hurt her or use her. She trusts that Jesus will not rebuke her or shame her in front of these harsh, judgmental men. He came to seek and save the lost, to redeem sinners. “It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick,” Jesus told the religious on another occasion when they took exception to His habit of eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is not ashamed to receive her gifts of worship.
The religious are uncomfortable beyond words. Imagine the looks on their hardened faces as her perfume fills the air, as her gentle sobs accompany her tears, her hair undone in most disreputable fashion as she gives Jesus a foot massage. What kind of prophet is this? How can such a man claim to be messiah, much less the Son of God, and yet put up with being touched by such a woman?
Our churches say, “Sinners welcome.” We preach, “Christ came to save sinners, of whom you and I are chief.” What if the world took us seriously? What if some actual “sinners” showed up on Sunday morning. Oh, I know we are all sinners, and you know that too. You say it at the start of the service. But we are by and large polite sinners, respectable sinners, religious sinners. What if some genuine “sinners” found their way into the pews – hookers, drug addicts, gays, you name it. What then? What if genuinely broken people brought their actually broken lives to the only place where brokenness is a virtue, to the font and the altar and the word of forgiveness, to Jesus? Would we mutter, complain, gossip, gripe about God’s amazing grace? “If the pastor only knew what sort of person that was, he wouldn’t be absolving him, communing her.”
Jesus has a little parable for Simon, and Simon is all ears. “The Teacher is going to honor me,” he thinks. Watch out when the Lord has a parable just for you. Just ask David, who bit into Nathan’s parable hook, line, and sinker, only to find himself in the parable’s cross hairs. “You are the man.”
A certain money lender had two debtors. One owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Neither could repay him. He forgave the debts of both. Now who loves more? Simon knows he’s been caught. “I suppose, the one for whom he canceled much.” “Right you are,” Jesus says. “And that is why you gave me no water for my feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil for my head. You have no idea how much you have been forgiven, and so you love little. She, the other hand, has washed my feet with her tears, anointed them with all that she had, wiped them with her hair, and kissed them. Why? Because she knows how great a sinner she is, and how great a Savior of sinners I am.”
Those who refuse to be identified with sinners such as this woman of the city, have no use for Jesus as Savior of sinners. Oh, they have use for Him and will attempt to use Him, but not as Savior. He is good to invite to dinner parties to impress your friends, trundle Him out and parade Him about to show you keep good company too. Just don’t get too fanatical about it, and by no means make some exclusive claim that only Jesus saves. The world won’t have any of that. But there’s always a place reserved at the religious table for Jesus, so long as He acts the respectable part and doesn’t offend the company. But when He receives the ministrations of a prostitute, and keeps company with women the likes of Mary Magdalene, and dares to place sinners ahead of the respectably religious, then He isn’t so marketable and manageable any more, is He? He’s bad for public morality and family. He should be ridding the streets of women like her; but instead He praises her, and He absolves her.
“Your sins are forgiven you.” The outrage ratchets up a notch. If her tears and hair and perfume and foot rub weren’t bad enough, this rubs salt in the wounds of the religious. Jesus forgives her sins! Right there in front of all these men who would condemn her to the depths of hell. He forgives her! And then their outrage is turned away from her to Him. “Who does He think He is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Faith clings to Jesus. St. Paul made that abundantly clear to the Galatians who were tempted to add something to Jesus. The justified live by faith. You are dead, crucified with Christ in His death, buried with Him in His burial. You no longer live. You are dead to sin, to the Law, to your self. Now it is Christ who lives in you. Christ who is your life. And the life you now live as one of His baptized believing ones, you live by faith (trust) in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you. Just like that broken woman of the city who had nothing to offer but her tears and perfume and hair and a life so miserably messed up and broken no one would want it much less could fix it.
She lived by faith in Jesus. She was justified. “Your faith has saved you.” Her Jesus saved her, bearing her sin, dying her death, becoming sin for her in His own sinlessness so that she, a prostitute could stand before God with head held up and eyes lifted to heaven, her tears of shame wiped away by the hand of God Himself. She was saved – not by her tears, or her perfume, or her love for Jesus, but by her faith that trusted Jesus with the worst of who she was. She was forgiven. Justified. Declared righteous for Jesus’ sake. And forgiven much, she loved much.
You are forgiven much too. More than you realize. The commandments are there to tell you the size of the debt, and the greatness of the forgiveness. David was a great sinner – an adulterer who took another man’s wife and then tried to cover up the affair by having him killed in the battlefield. David was forgiven, justified for Jesus’ sake. The death that saved him was typified by the death of David’s child, the child of his adultery with Bathsheba, the child with no name, uncircumcised. That child died for the sins of his father David. Sort of. He is a little Christ figure, a picture of David’s greater Son who actually did die an innocent death for David’s sins and for yours. David was forgiven much, and so he loved much.
Don’t think for a moment that David ever forgot what he was forgiven. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, the sin is etched in stone – “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” God forgives our sin and remembers our iniquities no more. They are forgotten in the dark death of His Son Jesus. But He lets us remember, at least for a while, what has been forgiven and forgotten, so that we may never say we can do without Jesus.
He who is forgiven much, loves much. Such great sinners we are; and such a great Savior is Jesus.
In the name of Jesus, Amen