Great Forgiveness, Great Love

Luke 7:36-8:3 / Pentecost 5 (Proper 6C) / 16 June 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

There are two kinds of sinners in the world. Those who recognize their sin and those who don’t. Those who recognize their sin are broken and contrite and confess their sin. Those who don’t recognize their sin are smug, self-righteous, and judgmental of others. Those who recognize their sin, recognize Jesus as the Savior of sinners. Those who don’t recognize their sin do not recognize Jesus and wonder, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” God’s desire is that you recognize your sin and so recognize your Savior and trust Him for your forgiveness. Those who recognize their sin are eager to hear forgiveness. Those who do not recognize their sin have no use for forgiveness. Both are sinners. Both are forgiven in Christ.

The religious Pharisees charged that Jesus ate with sinners. Ironically, one of the Pharisees named Simon invites Jesus to a dinner at his house, perhaps a Sabbath meal. The One who eats with sinners also eats with religious sinners. A woman of the city, whom everyone knew to be a “sinner”, sneaks into the party and ducks behind Jesus. She is weeping. She bends down to Jesus’ feet and her tears splash down on them. She opens an expensive bottle of scented oil, perhaps a tool of her “trade” and rubs the oil onto Jesus’ feet. She lets down her hair, something no decent woman would do in public, and she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair.

It is an “awkward moment”, to say the least, as a table full of judgmental religious men stares down hard on her. If they could have picked up stones to throw at her, they would have. How dare she behave this way! How dare she do this in front of everyone! This tramp! And Simon is thinking to himself, “Heh! If this guy was any sort of a prophet, he’d know what sort of woman was touching him and put a stop to this at once.”

“Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Say it, Teacher.”

Beware the parable. It’s a sin-seeking missile coming after you. David thought he’d gotten away with adultery and murder. He’d had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers who was in the field doing battle where David should have been too. She got pregnant, and David tried to cover it by calling her husband Uriah home on a furlough figuring he’d be eager to sleep his wife. But Uriah was much more loyal to the king than the king himself. He refused to go home to his wife, and so David had him killed in the front line of battle so he could marry the pregnant widow. And the whole nation would think of David as a hero. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David to tell David that the thing David had done, this adultery and murder, had displeased the Lord. Dangerous work. And so Nathan tells David a little story. A parable. A poor man had a little lamb he kept as a pet. And a rich man took that little lamb and barbecued it for his friends. The trap is set, and David walks straight into it. He’s outraged. The man deserves to die. Oh yes, he does!

The trap is sprung. “You are the man!” The sinner is flushed out of hiding. The sin is exposed. David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan absolves him. “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” The sin is laid on another. The child. David’s son. “The child who is born to you shall die,” bearing the sin of his father. He will die on the seventh day, uncircumcised, without a name. The son of David for the sin of David.

The Son of David came to seek and to save sinners. Every one of them without exception. The sinful woman of the street and Simon the Pharisee. The unreligious and the religious. Jesus came to save them all by dying for their sin.

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, a year and a half’s wages. The other owed fifty. He forgave them both. Note that. He forgave them both. Which would love him more? The trap is set, and the Pharisee walks straight into it. “I suppose the one for whom the larger debt was cancelled.”

Good. Do you see this woman? Do you see her tears, her hair? Do you smell her perfume? She loves much because she has been forgiven much. And what about you, Simon? No kiss of friendship, no oil, no water to wash my feet. You couldn’t care less about me, could you Simon? He who is forgiven little, loves little.

The woman is forgiven. Jesus tells her so. “Your sins are forgiven.” And He commends her faith that brought her tears and her devotion at Jesus’ feet. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” What about Simon and his friends? They are forgiven too. And they are forgiven much. For every adulterous act this woman did in her life, each of those men at the table had done the same with her or another in their hearts. Who is the five hundred denarii sinner and who is the fifty? We all assume that the woman is the big time sinner while the religious guy is the fifty denarii deadbeat. The Pharisee loves little not because God has forgiven him any less than that woman of the streets but because he’s received little forgiveness. What does he need forgiveness for? He tithes, he fasts, he worships, he keeps Torah. Forgiveness is for “sinners” like that woman at Jesus’ feet. One who doesn’t recognize his sin does not recognize the forgiveness that is his in Jesus. And he doesn’t recognize Jesus as the friend and savior of sinners.

Which would you rather be – the religious Pharisee or the weeping woman of the street? Both are guilty under the Law. Both are “sinners” in need of forgiveness. Both are included in the Death of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. One recognizes her sin and falls weeping at the feet of Jesus; the other sits in judgment of his fellow sinners and of Jesus who came to save him.

“A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.” We must be broken. Our pride, our religious ego, our judgments of others must all be broken. You are the man, the woman, the child upon whom the crosshairs of the Law are trained. Never mind the “sinners” around you. You are the one. You are the thief, the liar, the adulterer, the murderer, the idolater. What you abhor in others is at work in you too. What you judge in others, you also do. Oh, perhaps you are more polite about it, more religiously respectable, but to God, who looks into the depths of the sinful heart, there is no difference between the hooker and the Pharisee.

What distinguishes the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet from the Pharisee sitting at the table is faith. Repentant faith. She believes the Word about herself, that she is sinful. She hears her conscience accuse her in the quiet hours of the night, giving her no rest. She sees it in the hard stares of these religious men who judge her. She hears it in the Law and its commandments. She knows what she is. But she trusts Jesus with her broken, miserable, sinful life. She trusts Jesus with her tears, with her devotion, with her whole life. She trusts that those feet she’s drying with her hair in front of all those men will not kick her aside. And in that trust, she hears the words she knows are true and that she longs to hear over and over again: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” She loved Jesus much, because she believed that she was forgiven much.

How often we have played the part of the Pharisee as we have looked down on others in their sin and perhaps even kicked them for good measure. How often we have resented their tears of repentance, their over the top devotion, their lack of regard for what others think of them. We like our religion tidy, our sins respectable, our brokenness safe and domesticated. We point the accusing finger at the sinners out there and fail to acknowledge the sinner in here.

If you do not see yourself as a sinner, you will have no use for the Friend of Sinners. If you do not see yourself as a sinner, you will not seek His forgiveness, nor will you humble yourself at His feet. The arrogant king must be humbled. The proud Pharisee must be brought to His knees. The eye that looks down in judgment upon another must be filled with tears. The hardened heart must be broken.

The good news is that Jesus is a friend of sinners. Jesus welcomes sinners to His table. Jesus forgives sinners. Jesus died for sinners. The debt we cannot pay, He paid. The sin of David has been answered by the death of David’s Son on the cross, of whom that nameless infant was a picture. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish eternally but have eternal life. Jesus came not to condemn sinners but to save them.

You are forgiven. Your Jesus has saved you. Go in peace.

In the name of Jesus,