Forgiveness and love go together. The one who is forgiven much, loves much. The one who is forgiven little, loves little. So it stands to reason that it would be to our advantage to be in the maximum forgiveness receiving place so that we might love much. It also stands to reason that the reason we may not love as much as we could or should is that we don’t realize how forgiven we are. Of course, that would require a good hard look at our Sin, and we all know that it’s easier to look at the sin of others than it is our own.
Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee named Simon for a dinner party with some of Simon’s Pharisee friends. It’s probably safe to assume that this is a Sabbath meal, since ordinarily, dinner wasn’t a big deal. But the weekly sabbath was, and it was something one shared in the company of friends and family. So there is Jesus, who never seems to pass up a dinner invitation, reclining at table with his bare feet sticking out behind Him, at table with Simon and his Pharisee friends. What can possibly go wrong here?
Well, a “woman of the city” who was well known to be a “sinner” (Luke is the master of euphemisms here) finds out that Jesus is in town and is at Simon’s house and so she goes and gets an alabaster flask full of perfumed ointment, worth more than a pretty penny, and proceeds to sneak in the back door and slip behind Jesus reclining at the table with his bare feet sticking out back. She starts to sob, and big tears roll down her cheeks and fall on Jesus’ feet and then she bends down, lets down her hair and wipes his feet with her hair and proceeds to open this alabaster flask of perfumed ointment and rubs it onto his feet.
You can just imagine the look on the faces of these religious guys who are watching the whole thing take place, and Simon is thinking to himself, “If this guy were half the prophet he claims to be, he’d know what sort of woman this was who was touching him, and he’d send her off with a swift kick, because we all know that she’s a sinner, to put it politely.”
Now you can understand Simon’s anxiety here. He’s throwing a dinner party with his religious friends and Jesus is getting a foot rub from one of the local women of the street. Even we would be more than a bit outraged, I think. And if you factor in the custom that it is quite improper and downright salacious in Jesus’ day for a woman to let down her hair in public, let alone in the company of men, not even to mention wiping a man’s feet with one’s hair. The scene is almost over the top by middle eastern standards. And while we may chuckle uneasily over this whole thing, this was a class one outrage in Jesus’ society, and Simon was justified in being outraged.
But Jesus seems more focused on his host than the woman messing with his feet. He says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And Simon, taking the bait says, “Say it, Teacher.”
And now a parable. Watch out for those parables. They’re landmines. Bear traps. They’ll snag you when you least see it coming. Just ask King David who got suckered into a parable by his court prophet Nathan who told the story of the poor man with a pet lamb that got slaughtered for a rich man’s BBQ, and King David is so outraged that he sentences the man to death for it. And then the trap is sprung, and Nathan points the finger of the Law at David and says, “You are the man, and exposes David’s adultery (and was it even consensual?) with Bathsheba and his arranged murder of her husband Uriah, that faithful soldier. Watch out for those parables. You think they’re about all those sinners “out there,” and you wind up in the crosshairs.
A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Both debts were canceled. Which one of those two will love the moneylender more? Simple math, isn’t it? Simon seems almost disappointed. “The one who owed more,” he says, with a hint of boredom in his voice. Duh.
Right you are, Simon! See this woman? I know you do, you’ve been glaring at her the entire time. Well, she’s been washing my feet with her tears and hair, but you didn’t even bother the courtesy of a basin of water for my dusty feet or so much as a towel to wipe them. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. And you didn’t even trouble yourself to anoint my head but she’s pouring out everything she has on my feet. So, by your calculations, Simon, though her sins are many, as you undoubtedly are aware, they are also forgiven, which is why she loves much. And he who is forgiven little, loves little. So you can kind of fill in the blanks for yourself, Simon…..
And Jesus turns to face this women, the object of these men’s scorn (and possibly their desire), and He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven,” which ratchets the outrage to the next level. It’s bad enough that a woman of the street has spoiled their religious party, but now Jesus is talking as though He had the authority of God, which He does. Who is this who even forgives sin? Who indeed? The Lord, the Son of God, the One who came to die for Pharisee and prostitute, for democrat and republican, for the straight, the gay, the confused, for this whole screwed up world. But they don’t see that, and they won’t believe that, and they love so little because they don’t recognize their debt. They think they are little sinners, 50 denarii debtors. They think that woman is a big sinner, a 500 denarii debtor, possibly more.
She loves Jesus much, they love Jesus little, if at all.
And what about you? Do you see yourself as a 50 denarii debtor? A pretty good person who leads a fairly virtuous life with occasional slip-ups? Or do you see yourself as a 500 denarii debtor, the moral equivalent of that streetwalker who walked in on Simon’s dinner party? See? It’s a little uncomfortable isn’t it? We are fine with confessing, “I, a poor miserable sinner…” and thinking to ourselves, “well, not really that poor or miserable. Actually doing pretty well these days, if I do say so myself. And certainly not as bad as those horrible people out there.”
That’s where we all need a Nathan coming to David, “you are the man” moment where we get a good square look in the mirror of the Law and come to the horrific conclusion that if that woman who let her hair down for Jesus was a 500 denarii sinner, we’re more the 5000 denarii sinner, maybe even more. In fact, if we take that Law seriously that’s pointing its prophetic finger at us and saying, “you are the man, you are the woman,” then the debt is so great that we really can’t do the accounting on it. It starts to approach the size of the national debt, which at the writing of this sermon was $19.28 trillion dollars and growing so fast in the hundreds of thousands I couldn’t keep up with it. That’s a great parable for our sin under the Law! It’s runaway debt that grows by the second, and you can’t even keep up with it much less pay it off.
But that runaway debt was paid in full, once for all, with shed blood on Calvary’s cross where Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, bore our sins, became our Sin, paid our debt under the Law, wiped the books clean, and said to us in our Baptism, “your sins are forgiven.” He who is forgiven much, also loves much. It’s not that we are forgiven little and therefore love little, it’s that we’ve lost sight of the debt while we keep book on our fellow sinners.
Christ came to save sinners, not the religiously salvageable. He came to pay off the world’s debt, not just a handful of bad loans and bad choices. He came to save sinners, of whom the apostle Paul, who wasn’t that bad a guy in terms of morals and virtues, but who called himself “chief of sinners.” Worse than that woman who let her hair down. Worse than Simon and his religious cronies. Worse than the worst sinner you can think of when you’re not staring in the mirror.
The key to loving much, to loving Jesus in the way of that woman with her tears, her hair, her perfume, her whole being, is to be forgiven much, keeping nothing away from Jesus’ forgiveness, becoming chief of sinners in a world of sinners, and recognizing that your debt is paid in full by One who died and rose for you. And when the religious world glares at you and reminds you of what a sinner you are, you just hide behind Jesus at His feet and let Him cover you with His righteousness. You say, ”Nevertheless, I am baptized into Christ” which is to take your place next to that woman who endured the glare of the Pharisees to worship Jesus.
In the end, Jesus commends the woman’s faith. “Your faith has saved you.” In other words, your trust in Me has saved you. You trusted me enough to anoint my feet with your repentant tears, with your hair, with your costliest treasure. You trusted me in the face of the glaring and judging religious world, these men who stared their hard, judgmental looks at you even as they desired you. You trusted Me, and that’s what saves you. Go in peace.
That’s not “condoning sin,” as you sometimes hear it. If we just tell people they’re forgiven and don’t demand that they shape up and clean up their lives and …. Did you hear any of that from Jesus? No. He simply says, “Your sins are forgiven.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Go in peace.
That’s why she loved Jesus. Unconditional grace. Grace with no strings attached. Grace with no, “you’re forgiven if you….” Just, “your sins are forgiven.” Just as David heard from Nathan, “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Just as you heard at the beginning of this service, and as you hear at the Table.
Absorb the magnitude of that forgiveness of Jesus, and the love will flow like tears from the eyes of a prostitute.
Your sins are forgiven.
Your faith in Jesus saves you.
Go in peace.
In the name of Jesus,