June 20, 2010: God’s Love Thermometer

Let us pray: Dear Savior, how easy it is to utter the word “love” but how hard it is to experience it to the core of our being. Likewise, it is difficult for us to put that word “love”—which glides off our lips so effortlessly—into practice. Yes, we humans are stingy when it comes to handing out our love. But, You are not! You are pure love made fully human. You are pure love which puts into constant practice the ultimate source of genuine love through forgiving us all our sins. So today, create in each of us this new reality: forgiveness=love, which in turn creates more love within our thankful hearts. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, GOD’S LOVE FOR US INCARNATE!

TEXT: Luke 7: 36-50

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

I still haven’t gotten the hang of the new thermometers you find in the stores. I guess I’m not a digital guy who enjoys pushing the right button at exactly the right moment in order to activate them. When you’re feeling lousy or bleary eyed from pain, give me the old fashioned mercury thermometer. It was quick, easy to read, and basically goof-proof!

Thermometers measure temperature. I have some outdoors, some indoors, and even one I use in cooking to measure the internal meat temperature. In essence, they are a handy gauge as to whether something is hot, cold, or has reached the optimal state of doneness. We use them to measure a variety of things against some ideal standard.—That is, if 72 degrees is just right, anything less will make you feel cold and anything more will make you feel hot.

Today’s lesson lays before us a gauge by which to judge to our hearts when it comes to our relationship with God our Creator. Each of us needs to read this thermometer daily if we wish to have an optimum filled life. So, let’s briefly focus our attention on:

GOD’S LOVE THERMOMETER

I

Pharisees were ultra-religious men who thought they had tamed human evil in their lives. They accepted that God was perfect and humans were not. But they also believed that they could achieve personal perfection by a rigorous, rigid lifestyle of carefully going through the motions of religiosity. In a sense, they were a lot like some rigid Moslem sects today. That is, if you dressed in the proscribed way, prayed in the proscribed way, ate only the proscribed food, and acted towards others in a certain proscribed manner, you could avoid sin altogether and thus achieve personal perfection all on your own. And don’t forget, the founders of their sect set up the standards by which they judged themselves. So, it was basically: humans decide and humans act on their own to corral God into honoring and blessing them based upon their own self-created thermometer. In essence, these Pharisees never gave a thought to forgiveness or the need of it because they imagined they were sin-free and superior to all!

One of these Pharisees, Simon, knew Jesus. He wasn’t a follower, but he obviously respected Christ a bit, and Simon invited Jesus to dinner at his house. Other Pharisees joined in. In those days, they didn’t have a table and chairs like we do. They ate lying down, lying on cushions with a low coffee table type contrivance in the middle holding the food. Probably this was a good idea as it didn’t constrict the gastro-intestinal tract.

Suddenly a woman who had heard Jesus is there, arrives on the scene. Without any introduction she walks right in, stands behind Jesus, and kneels over his outstretched feet dousing them with her tears. We’re told that “she had led a sinful life.” Now, some think this woman was Mary Magdalene, or some other prostitute. Not true. Pharisees would never be caught dead with such a woman in their house! The only thing we know of her is that she had done things which were shunned by all good Jewish people, had openly violated some of the commandments, and now here she is crying at Jesus’ feet as He lays on His side with feet behind him at this table.

Then she opens the alabaster jar of perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, let’s down her hair and wipes His feet with her tresses. This behavior is unthinkable! No self-respecting Jewish woman would ever do such a thing! First, the jar and perfume were worth thousands in modern money—such waste! Second, only promiscuous woman wore their hair down in those days. And third, using her hair as a towel for dirty, dusty feet was degrading.

Everyone seems stunned into silence. Simon thinks inwardly, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of a woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Knowing that St. Luke wrote those words describing Simon’s inward thoughts, it seems obvious to me that later in life Simon must have renounced his Phariseeism and become a follower of Christ. How else would Luke know this if Simon didn’t recount the story later on? Anyway, Jesus knows all things and now uses this event to lay out a parable designed to clearly set forth the truth of: God’s Love Thermometer.

II

The parable is about a moneylender who was owed payback by two borrowers. One owed 50 denarii and the other 500 denarii. This coin was silver and its amount was basically the equivalent of a laborer’s day’s wage. So, if a day’s wage today is: $100 then one owed $5000 and the other $50,000. Neither man could pay it back. So, the moneylender simply canceled both debts, freely and without being asked. (O that bankers were so generous today!) Then comes the question to Simon: “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answers the obvious: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Then, turning to this woman Jesus recounts to Simon how he didn’t provide water to wash Christ’s feet. Neither did Simon give the common greeting of a kiss. Neither did he provide oil to cleanse Christ’s head and honor Him.– Whereas this woman put herself in a position of total submission to Christ trusting in His kind heart to help her. Then comes the clincher: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Our English translation doesn’t get it exactly right. Christ isn’t saying: Human love earns Godly forgiveness. No, He’s saying: Forgiveness from God gives birth to human love. Human love is a thank-offering given in response to receiving God’s forgiveness. Love toward God is the result of forgiveness. Moreover, unlike Simon who didn’t even think he needed forgiveness because he thought he was so holy all on his own; this woman grieved over her former sins, humbled herself before the Lord, and our compassionate Savior then filled her heart with forgiveness. Her entire behavior was but a gauge, a thermometer, of God’s love for repentant souls.

To really drive this point home, Jesus now reiterates rather pointedly: “Your sins are forgiven.” The other pompous guests utter under their breath: “Who is this who even forgives sins?”—The point being: only God can do that, and why would God bother with such a notorious woman? But again, Jesus is concerned with hurting souls who want a cure instead of those who won’t even recognize their own evil hearts. And so He says: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

“Your faith has saved you. Not your loving actions. Not your tears. Not the costly perfume. No, your faith in Me as the Messiah, the Eternal Son of God, Who came to seek, save, and love the lost—that faith has saved you!” Folks, Jesus says the same to you today. You can certainly use your own Christian actions to measure your love for Him, in that they serve as a thermometer of your commitment, don’t they? But the real, genuine thermometer is God’s love for you in Christ, made evident by Him giving you complete forgiveness. It is made known by the cross and later the empty tomb. So confess all you conscience burdens to Christ. Don’t hold back. Give all your inner regrets and shameful actions to the Lord. Pour them out upon Him. And the fruit of those actions will be: your love for Him will increase—just like this woman’s–and optimum peace of soul will be yours! Amen