Seventh Sunday After Trinity July 29, 2001
361, 277, 32, 51
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who came to this world to “seek and save those who are lost,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Did you like to do puzzles when you were little? I did. I liked to do crosswords and word searches. I liked the ones where you had to find your way through a maze. But my favorite puzzles were the ones with hidden shapes in them. They’d give you a complicated drawing to look at, and your task was to find, e.g., the fifteen flowers hidden somewhere in the picture. There were almost always one or two that I wouldn’t be able to find. Then I’d look at the answer key and discover—of course—that the missing shapes had been staring me in the face the whole time. It seems so obvious when you know where to look!
Even grownups sometimes have trouble seeing something that’s right in front of their face. In today’s text, Jesus is trying to get a point across to a Pharisee named Simon. To do it, He gives Simon a picture to examine—a picture of two debtors suddenly released from their indebtedness. Then Jesus, in effect, asks Simon to find himself, hidden in that picture. Well, it’s a puzzle that isn’t too difficult to solve. And if you look closely enough, I think you may be able to find yourself hidden in that picture, as well! This morning’s theme is a challenge:
A man named Simon had invited Jesus to dinner. He was a Pharisee, one of the hypocritical Jewish leaders who were always looking for an opportunity to trap Jesus in His words and condemn Him. Jesus never turned anyone down—not even a Pharisee—so He entered Simon’s house and took His place at the table. In those days people lay down to eat; they reclined on low couches with their heads toward the table and their feet away from it, leaning on their left elbow as they ate. That seems rather strange to us, but it was completely natural to them. Another custom that might seem strange—outside visitors frequently would stop by for a few minutes’ conversation while the meal was going on. This was all very common. What happened in our text, though, was very uncommon—and quite shocking to everyone present except Jesus.
A woman walked in and stood at Jesus’ feet weeping. She was a woman everybody knew—a fallen woman, who had perhaps been guilty of adultery, or had had a child out of wedlock. The respectable people around the table were shocked, more so when they watched the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair. They couldn’t believe it! Jesus never moved, while this person—who was so obviously a “sinner”—proceeded to kiss His feet, and anoint his feet with an expensive perfume.
Simon the Pharisee was outraged, but he didn’t say so out loud. He thought to himself, “And this Jesus is supposed to be a prophet! If he really were a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman this was who is touching Him!” Jesus read his thoughts. He turned to him and said, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. So Jesus proceeded to tell him the Parable of the Two Debtors.
Two men owed money to the same moneylender; one man 50 “pence”, or denarii, the other 500. Now a denarius was a day’s wages for a working man—maybe $50 in today’s money. That means one guy owed $2500, the other $25,000. There was quite a difference in the size of the debts these two men owed. However, they had one thing in common: neither of them could pay. Well, if you’ve ever faced a financial deadline with no idea how you were going to pay the bill, maybe you can appreciate their misery—days of worry, nights of tossing and turning, dreading the coming day of reckoning. At last the day arrives, an d both men go penniless to the moneylender to meet their doom. But something astonishing happens, something they never imagined—out of the blue, the moneylender decides to cancel their debts completely, as if they had paid off the entire amount! Suddenly, both men found themselves free and clear, and all on account of the kindness and good will of their creditor. Tell me therefore, Jesus asked the Pharisee, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
Well, it was a nice little story Simon may have thought to himself, but what’s it got to do with this disreputable woman breaking in on my dinner party? So Jesus explained it to him. He challenged him to FIND THE DEBTORS IN THIS PICTURE. Simon himself was represented by a character in the parable, as was the woman. If we look close enough, I think we’ll find that each of us is somewhere in that picture, too! FIND THE DEBTORS IN THIS PICTURE!
Simon is easy to find in the parable. He’s the debtor who had less to forgive. Jesus cast him in that role because that’s how Simon saw himself as compared with the woman. He was an upstanding member of the community, very religious, paid his taxes. Far above that wicked woman in terms of righteousness—or so he thought! But notice the parable—both debtors were bankrupt; neither of them had the means with which to pay their debt. In those days they threw you into prison when you couldn’t pay your debts; and it didn’t matter how much you owed—one dollar or a million dollars, the punishment was the same. Likewise, the punishment for sin is the same for every sinner—eternal death. Simon’s problem was that he didn’t realize how much he owed. The Bible says “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “And he who shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in ONE POINT, he is guilty of ALL!”—Js 2:10.
Simon the Pharisee was ignoring his own sinfulness and his own need for a Savior. And the evidence for this was clear, said Jesus. Like the man in the parable, “he loved little.” When the Lord Jesus came to his house, Simon didn’t show love for him—actually, he wasn’t even very polite! For instance, it was common courtesy in those days for a host to greet his guests with a kiss on the cheek as they arrived; but, Jesus said, Thou gavest me no kiss. Normally a servant would appear to wash the feet of the guests before dinner; But Simon, thou gavest me no water for my feet. For special guests, a few drops of scented oil would be placed on the forehead as a gesture of welcome; My head with oil thou didst not anoint. If Simon the Pharisee had known how much sin he actually had to forgive, he certainly wouldn’t have omitted these polite customs. But he didn’t know. His self-righteous nose was so high in the air that he couldn’t see his own sin. His lack of love for Jesus proved that he was the worst kind of sinner: an unrepentant one, one who was teetering on the brink of hell!
FIND THE DEBTORS IN THIS PICTURE. What about the other one? The one who was forgiven a debt not of twenty-five hundred, but twenty-five THOUSAND dollars?—That’s right, Jesus was referring to the sinful woman at His feet.
The woman had no illusions about her own sinfulness—she knew how low she had fallen, and the danger that that sin posed to her eternal soul. Yes, she knew about her sin—but she also knew about HER SAVIOR. Maybe she had heard Jesus speak somewhere, or perhaps she had only heard a rumor about Him: “The Messiah has arrived,” someone may have whispered. “His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and He’ll forgive the sins of anyone who comes to Him!” However it happened, the Holy Spirit had worked faith in this woman’s heart. She knew that Jesus was the One who could lift the heavy burden of guilt off her sinful shoulders, and there wasn’t anything that could keep her away from Him. She knew very well that Jesus was the creditor who could and would cancel her huge debt of sin.
She wasn’t wrong about that. Jesus once said, “He who cometh unto Me I will in NO WISE cast out!” While Simon and his other guests looked down their noses at her in disgust, Jesus looked on her with loving compassion, and granted her fondest wish. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven… go in peace.
What a wonderful blessing Jesus gives—to suddenly be completely released from the bondage of sin! The woman must have felt the same way that that man did in the parable—the one who was most deeply in debt. Her gratitude for Jesus’ forgiveness was plain for all to see. There was no pride to be seen as she knelt at Jesus’ feet and washed them with her tears. There was no self-righteousness in the way she kissed His feet and anointed them with oil. There was only one thing—LOVE FOR HER LORD JESUS. This love was the evidence of her faith. Of the two characters in the parable, she was the one who was forgiven much, and therefore loved much.
Did I say, “two characters”? Actually, there are three. You are in there, too! Can you find yourself in this picture? All too often, I’m afraid, we’re like the debtor who loved little. We underestimate how far in debt to sin we’ve become. Instead of kissing Jesus’ feet in repentant acknowledgement of our sin, we spit in His face by nonchalantly continuing to do what we know is wrong. Do we, like Simon, despise the Lord Jesus? Have we ignored the preaching of His Word, scorned His gift of forgiveness by missing the Lord’s supper? Have we been guilty of looking down self-righteous noses at those of our neighbors who are “less upstanding” than we are?
——You begin to feel it, don’t you? The same conviction of sin that that woman felt; the same desperate longing for forgiveness. Don’t be afraid—it’s not too late! Come to Jesus today for full forgiveness of all your sins! When you’re driven to cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?”— that’s when the sweet words of Jesus are the most comforting thing on earth: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden…and you shall find rest for your soul.”
If we find ourselves in this parable, let it be as the ones who were forgiven much, and loved much. Let us come to our Savior’s feet, humbly confessing our sin; not boasting of our own accomplishments, but seeking the forgiveness only His grace can provide. We won’t come away empty-handed. Are your sins many? So were that woman’s, and she wasn’t turned away! “Where sin did about,” our Lord says, “there grace did much more abound.” It was for that sinful woman that Jesus walked the way of the cross. It was for you that He bore the Roman whip and crown of thorns. It was for me that He suffered the wounds of nail and spear. Our sins are paid for; our debt is cancelled. We have been forgiven much. My fellow Christians, let our lives show the world that we can love much, as well!
It is Jesus’ final words that make this passage an especially comforting one. A famous Lutheran Theologian was once asked what he most wanted in life. He replied, “For myself, I want no more than what Christ gave to that sinful woman—the words, ‘Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’” My friends, if that sounds as good to you as it does to me, then the puzzle is solved. We’ve found our place in the picture! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.