Luke 7:36-50 The Message (MSG)
One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
Then he said to her: “Your sins are forgiven.”
That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
“One of the pharisees asked Jesus over for an evening of dinner and conversation. He accepts and when it’s time to eat he reclines at the table, as they did in those days; leaning on his left arm and eating with his right hand. A woman of the village enters the room. She is a “sinner”; apparently everyone knows that. Though what her sin is we aren’t told. She just shows up in the pharisee’s dining room carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. She kneels behind Jesus and begins to weep; raining tears down on his feet.
This woman, who is never named, lets down her hair, (more proof of her “sinnerhood”, you know. No respectable woman would have done that in public) she dries his feet with her hair, and anoints them with the perfume, filling the house with the fragrance.
When the Pharisee, who is named—Simon, he’s called, sees what she is doing, he says to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him."
Jesus, of course, can read Simon’s thoughts—they’re written plainly across his shocked and offended face. So he says to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." (And now, here comes the riddle. Simon would have been expecting a riddle. This is what rabbis did when they got together. It was standard diner time fare. They loved tying to outwit each other with riddles and clever sayings.)
"OK”, Simon says, “Tell me."
“There were two debtors”, Jesus begins, “who owed money to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay. So the banker canceled both debts. “
Now we usually gloss over this to get to the punch line of the riddle. But I want to pause here for a moment. This is important. These two debtors owe money to a banker. One owes a little, the other owes a lot, but both owe more than they can pay. This is a dire situation. It means scandal and shame and prison for both of them.
It doesn’t matter that one owes a lot and another owes a little. The consequences will be the same for both. If I have no money, it doesn’t matter if I owe you a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars; it might matter to you, but it doesn’t to me. I can’t pay.
But the story turns. On his own initiative, without being asked, the banker cancels both debts—the little one and the big one. So now, instead of both debtors facing scandal and prison, both are set free.
Why does he do this? Why does the banker cancel the debt?
This is a parable, of course—a story in which some things stand for some other things. So let’s say God is the creditor—the banker. The debtors are ordinary sinners; their sin is their debt. One owes a little; the other owes a lot. Just like in real life, some people mess up a little, others mess up a lot; some are a little in debt to God, some are way, way under water.
Two debtors stand before God; both facing the same consequences. Neither comes, as this parable tells it anyway, expecting or asking for their debt to be cancelled. Yet, God forgives them both—the big sinner and the little sinner. Why does God do this?
We have to see what Jesus is getting at here. He’s describing God’s way of being in the world; and it’s radically different from what most people expect. This is God’s way of being God in relation to our way of being who we are—ordinary people who screw things up way too often; all the time, to be honest.
In this world where all of us routinely miss the mark—some by a lot, and others by a whole lot, this divine accountant, this heavenly banker, pours over his books with a large eraser in hand. Wherever he sees a debt entered in the ledger he erases it.
Why this happens is, of course, a mystery to us. From our perspective—from a business perspective, which is the way we usually see things, this is about the dumbest move anyone could imagine.
But put that aside for a moment and just assume Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Just accept that this is the way God does things. Watch how the story unfolds from here.
"Two men were in debt to a banker. (Jesus says to Simon), One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?"
This is obviously a trick question because the correct answer is also obvious. Still, Simon has to be careful how he answers. "I suppose” he says, “the one who was forgiven the most."
"That's right," said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, "Do you see this woman?” This is a beautifully compassionate question—compassionate to both Simon and the woman.
Simon believed he was a man of vision. He thought he could see everything clearly. He looked into the woman’s heart and saw a cheap sinner; end of story. He looked right through Jesus and saw he was no prophet.
But with this simple question, Simon’s blindness is exposed. This man of vision sees nothing.
“Turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, Jesus said, "Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss in greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn't it? She was (notice the past tense—she was) forgiven many, many sins, and so she is (present tense—right now) very, very grateful.” (The Message)
“There is no fear in love”, St. John says, “because perfect love casts out fear; fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not seen this perfect love”. And the converse is just as true—whoever sees the perfect love of God will never be afraid.
This is the way God does things, Jesus is telling Simon; this is the way it works. First the debt is cancelled; then the gratitude flows. The air in the room has been changed. We are accustomed to breathing in condemnation and breathing out fear. That’s the way it has always been. But Jesus offers something different.
The air has been purified. Now we breathe in forgiveness and breathe out freedom; we breathe in God’s Spirit and breathe out God’s peace. This fresh air is our new reality—life giving oxygen all around us all the time.
But we have to breathe, don’t we? Fresh air is of no use to us if we don’t breathe. And when we do breathe, the air comes rushing in. Breathing doesn’t create this fresh air. Breathing is the experience of this fresh air.
Or we could be like Simon. He walked around in this same purified air—the same air being breathed in by this woman he so casually despises. But he is holding his breath. And he is slowly asphyxiating, slowly suffocating; when all he has to do, really, is open his lungs and breathe.
Or maybe he did—a little. He did invite Jesus to dinner, after all. Maybe one day he breathed in say 50 silver pieces worth of forgiveness, and that prompted him to bring Jesus into his home.
The metaphor isn’t perfect, I know. But it works.
Do you want to know what it feels like to be forgiven: Breathe. Breathe in the forgiveness that is already all around you. Do you want to know want it feels like to be whiter than snow? Breathe. Do you want to know the alternative to a life ruled by drugs, sex, power, money, pride, anger, fear, hatred; the alternative to an empty, pointless life? Breathe.
We are surrounded every moment by this life giving oxygen; the life giving breath of God. Breathe it in. Breathe in forgiveness; breathe out freedom. Breathe in God’s Spirit; breathe out God’s peace. It’s all around us, waiting for us. In fact, whether we know it or not, it is what we are already breathing. It’s all there is to breathe.
Do you see this woman who came to Jesus overflowing with gratitude? There is a bit of her in each of us, don’t you think. We know how it feels to live life on the negative side of the spiritual ledger—overdrawn, non-sufficient funds in the character account.
Do you see this woman? Do you see what she’s doing? She’s breathing, deeply.
"Do you see this woman?” Jesus said to Simon. “She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful."
Then Jesus spoke to her, and through her to us: "Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." Amen.
Sermon - Brad Brookins
This story opens the door to a lot of foundational, important questions. This is not easy stuff to think about but it will certainly set the stage for some vigorous conversation.
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ 41‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
1. From what you can tell in the story, when did the woman ask for forgiveness?
2. When was she forgiven?
3. How did she know she was forgiven?
4. Why was she forgiven?
5. Was Simon also forgiven? How do you know (if he was or not)?.
6. What does "forgiven" mean? What is sin? What happens to sin that is forgiven?
7. Is there a connection between knowing we need forgiveness and receiving forgiveness? Between asking and receiving?
7. What do we mean when we use "debt" as a metaphor for sin? What exactly is the "debt". Who do we owe the debt to? If we owe the debt to God, did God loan us the sin that we are now paying for?
8. In the parable is debt used as a metaphor for sin or is it a literal description of what sin is?
9. In the last sentence Jesus tells the woman "Your faith has saved you". What does the word "saved" mean in this sentence?
10. Describe, if you can, how her faith saved her. What is the mechanism of forgiveness?
11. Extra Credit Question: In Jesus parable, who gets the better deal, the debtors or the creditor?