If you want people to really listen to what you have to say, tell them a story. People love stories. Jesus knew this well, and so He told parables to puzzle people, to get them to think, to convict, encourage, and awaken them to kingdom truths. Each of His stories had a purpose and an intent.
It can be said that Jesus’ parables are an earthly story with a heavenly truth. Today’s parable, which has one of those heavenly truths, was told as a result of something that occurred at the dinner table at a home in the city of Nain. Earlier that day, Jesus had raised a young man back to life. He had also done quite a bit of teaching.
Simon, a Pharisee, was considered holy and very religious – a leader in his community. He invited Jesus to have dinner with him and his friends in his home. He had obviously heard talk around town about Jesus being called the prophet of God after raising a dead boy back to life. Simon may have gone out to hear Jesus teach that day and wanted to know more about Him.
Most likely, Simon probably wanted to test Jesus by asking Him some difficult questions. He was a bit skeptical of Jesus, and, in all likelihood, was probably threatened by Him as were the other Pharisees. Jesus did not teach like they did. Therefore His popularity and His teachings could erode the Pharisees’ influence and leadership.
In those days, people ate in a reclining position at the dinner table. Jesus would have positioned Himself on His side in front of a low-sitting table with His feet sticking out behind.
Typically, with a celebrity like this, the front door was left open so observers could listen to the conversation. One of these observers caused quite a stir. It was a woman from the community who had a soiled reputation. As she came up behind Jesus, she knelt down and, with tears rolling down her face, she washed His feet with her tears. Next she let down her hair, which was considered very inappropriate public behavior in those days, and dried his feet with her hair. She had brought an alabaster jar of expensive ointment and put the ointment on Jesus’ feet and kissed them without saying a word.
To the shock of others, Jesus let her do this. In fact, He even looked pleased about it. Simon, though, was horrified and critical toward Jesus. He thought to himself, Now I know, He can’t be a prophet. Otherwise, He would know her sinfulness and refuse to let someone like her even touch Him. She is a sinner with a capital “S”! He definitely is not a prophet from God.
Ironically, Jesus read Simon’s mind, which must’ve startled him. ‘Simon, I have something to say you.’
Simon replies, “Teacher, speak.” (Calling Jesus, ‘teacher’ might have been a bit of a put down, for it implies that Jesus is only a teacher in Simon’s mind, an equal at best.)
Jesus tells him a short parable. A certain moneylender had two debtors. One man owed him a little – a couple months’ wages; another one owed him a lot – 10 times that amount. When they could not pay, the lender canceled the debt of both of these men.
Jesus paused and then asked Simon, “Which one of them would love the moneylender more?” Simon said, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly. Do you see this woman? You didn’t even do me the small common courtesy of washing my feet when I came in; she washed my feet with her tears. You gave me no kiss to welcome me as you would any other guests, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil as any hospitable host would do, yet she anointed my feet with her ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loves much, just like the greater debtor in the parable.”
Then Jesus added, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Perhaps this was a jab at Simon. She recognized Jesus for who He was – the Son of God who has authority to forgive sins. She obviously had an earlier encounter with Him, heard His call to repentance, the promise of forgiveness of sins, and a fresh start. She maybe even had a private conversation with Him before He came to the dinner. Jesus was well aware of her background, yet He received her and told her she was forgiven. So, like the debt-ridden man in the parable who owed so much, we see her responding with a lot of love toward Jesus, an extravagant, worshipful love.
Why? Because she had been forgiven much. She now belongs to the “forgiven-much crowd”, and she is showing it. She believes she’s forgiven. She has faith in Jesus, so Jesus said to her in front of everyone, affirming her faith, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”
Jesus’ grace led to inner peace in her life, and peace with God, which is something Simon does not have or understand. He kept Jesus and His message at arm’s length. He has his legalistic religious background telling him that as long as he keeps doing good things, he is okay in God’s sight. He’s a good, righteous man.
We see Simon’s true colors showing. He believes Jesus has it all wrong. Simon has shown little love and no faith toward Jesus. He serves as kind of a foil, as we say in literary talk, meaning one whose critical thinking allows us to see and hear God’s message of forgiveness, which Jesus has for each of us and His authority to give it. Jesus is the Son of God. This woman’s sinful debt has been canceled by Jesus, and she responds in faith-filled love, which is pleasing to the Son of God, Jesus our Savior, our Lord.
Luke doesn’t tell us how the meal ends. It must have been a little awkward. I can imagine red-faced Simon breaking the silence by saying something like, “Please pass the bread.”
Dear friends, this parable holds an important teaching for us. Jesus points out that we are all debtors in need of God’s forgiveness. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God with our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our inactions. Like in the parable, we are the debtors, helplessly, hopelessly unable to make things right with God, unable to pay our debt. God has every reason to throw the book at us – like the moneylender – and send us off to jail (to hell). Instead He is merciful. He shows mercy toward us and offers mercy and grace.
I’m afraid we sometimes forget God’s greatness and holiness. We kind of shrink Him in our minds, and we may sometimes forget about the depths of our sinfulness. We downplay it and leave out our wretchedness in His sight. We forget our debt before Him. We’re even prone to think God owes us something. But God owes us nothing! We are beggars in His sight, in need of His mercy. We need to pay attention to the words in John Newton’s old, familiar hymn,
♬ Amazing Grace,
how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me . . . ♪
I’m not okay, and neither are you. We’re not mistakers who need more self-help; we’re sinners in need of a Savior. I’m a self-centered wretch, spiritually bankrupt, unable to make things right with God. My good deeds are nothing more than filthy rags before this holy God. I break His commandments regularly, and I deserve punishment. I need help.
The good news for beggars like me is that, though we are sinful, God forgives our sins. He cancels our debt, but not without great cost to Himself. The cost is the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. On a cross, He paid the debt for our sins – for my sins and yours.
When Jesus took His last breath on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” which means literally, “Paid in full!” Someone has said the Gospel is like a banker walking up to us when we cannot pay our mortgage. Rather than foreclosing, he writes a check to pay off our debt. God is a spiritual banker who has paid our debt through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven in Christ. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!”
The Pharisees at the table question the authority of Jesus to forgive sins, because only God can do that. They said amongst themselves, Who does Jesus think he is? They will soon learn the answer as Christ’s authority to forgive sins is affirmed on Easter morning when God raises Him from the dead, thus endorsing His authority and His Word.
I want to stop for just a minute and ask, Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you? Have you joined the “forgiven-much” crowd? Because, friend, if you have been keeping Jesus at arm’s length, living with your own made-up theology about being good enough for God, I appeal to you today to give that kind of thinking up. It’s a dead end! Lay down those trophies you’ve been depending on and clinging to. Come to Jesus Christ who stands ready to forgive you and give you a new start and a place in His heaven. He knows your sin. No sin is too great for Him to forgive.
Christ’s grace is available to the debtor. A new life, which never ends, is what He is offering you. Come to Him and trust Him with your life.
If you have placed your trust in Jesus and what He did for you, you are part of the “forgiven-much” crowd – just like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.
The story is teaching us how to say, “I love you” to Jesus for the rest of your life in response to His grace and mercy. It’s really quite simple.
How do you say “I love you” to Jesus?
First, you say it as you serve Jesus. The woman served Him as she washed His feet. It was servants’ work. Jesus Himself would wash the feet of His disciples and say, “I’ve given you an example. If I your Lord and master have washed your feet, I want you to wash one another’s feet.” Serving others pleases Him.
We say “I love you” to Jesus as we serve others in His name. We remember His words, “As you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.”
We say it with our giving. The woman in our story gave her ointment. She gave sacrificially. The perfume was expensive. Does your giving reflect your love for Jesus? Is it sacrificial or simply a non-thinking type of gift, a tip.
In my church at stewardship time, I have always taught my folks, we give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. The giving of my time, my finances, my skills for the cause of the kingdom of God in response to Christ’s love for me – like the woman in our story. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker, which says,
Tithe if you love Jesus.
Anyone can honk.
There’s some truth to this.
Finally, we tell Jesus we love Him with bold witnessing. The woman’s actions were public, bold, courageous, a testimony for Jesus Christ. She was in hostile territory, and yet, without a word, she boldly testified as to how wonderful it is to have Jesus forgive her and take over her life. This, my friends, is how one says, “I love you” to Jesus.
My fellow debtors and beggars in Christ who have been forgiven, this is our encouragement today from God’s word. We’ve been forgiven much. Hallelujah! Let us love Him much in grateful response today and every day. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer