June 16, 2013: Big Love Comes From Big Forgiveness

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that forgiveness takes away the inner hurt, the inner guilt we all experience in this life. We’ve all experienced the freedom of conscience that comes when we’re weighed down by a certain sin against another and they say to us from the heart: “I forgive you!” The only fly in the ointment is that we also know that humans can take back that forgiveness, or not really mean it. Today remind us that You never take back Your forgiveness and that You always mean it! And thus armed with the strength of Your love, may we love both You and all others back, thereby showing our appreciation for that wonderful gift! Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE FORGIVER OF ALL SINS!

TEXT: Luke 7: 36-50

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Are you living in denial? Are you really honest with yourself? Do you see yourself as others see you? When they point out your weaknesses are you immediately defensive, or do you take their insightful words to heart? And how do you treat others who have been brave enough and loving enough to tell you the truth about yourself? Do you say: “Thank you for being so honest, I know it’s hard to ‘speak the truth in love.'” Or perhaps you merely “hurrmph” and grudgingly modify your behavior so as not to get caught in an uncomfortable situation again?

We humans con ourselves a lot and live in a state of denial about ourselves—a lot. We can con others by hiding what’s really in our heart. But, we cannot con God. He sees all, knows all, hears all, and desperately wants us to be honest with ourselves and with Him. For otherwise the power of forgiveness is rendered impotent and the love that it naturally spawns is really non-existent. We see these psychological truths played out in our lesson today. As we examine this lesson we see that:

BIG LOVE COMES FROM BIG FORGIVENESS

I

Simon the Pharisee was a nice man with good manners. Unlike many of his fellow Pharisees, Simon wasn’t openly hostile to Christ. O, he knew that Jesus was unorthodox in His approach to people in that He tended to hang out with what Simon considered the “lesser” and more “undesirable” members of society. Since Simon thought that Holy God would only want to consort with holy people, His prophets should do likewise. And since Jesus obviously had Godly power (recall that Christ had just healed with centurion’s servant), Simon naturally thought that Christ would want to hang out with him—because he practiced holiness, at least in his own eyes. So, the dinner invitation went out and Jesus accepted. We find Him sitting, actually reclining around Simon’s table, for that’s how they ate in those days—better for the digestion!

Suddenly a woman comes in. Luke says: “she had lived a sinful life in that town.” Now, we don’t know who this woman was or what made her sins so notorious. She is not identified as Mary Magdalene, as some suggest. She is not identified as a prostitute, as others suggest. Yet, you do get the feeling that such morality sins might have given rise to her notorious reputation. Then something amazing occurs. She stands behind Jesus weeping.—Simon is uncomfortable. Her tears drip unto Christ’s feet.—Simon’s discomfort increases. Then she kneels down, undoes her hair and begins to wipe Christ’s feet and her tears with her tresses. Finally to top it all off, she opens an alabaster jar of perfume—worth a lot of money—and anoints Christ’s feet!—Now Simon is squirming. Jewish women just didn’t do such things! It spoke of a familiarity that was unholy to him.

“When the Pharisee (Simon) who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Of course, Jesus knew both the heart of this woman and Simon’s too. After all, as God’s Son He can read human hearts. And so Jesus talks to Simon and tells him a parable about two men who owed money to a money-lender. At this point, Simon must have been wondering: “What’s going on? Where is all this leading?” You can almost see his growing discomfort.

Christ goes on to tell Simon how neither man could pay back his debt. And yet, unlike any human shylock that Simon had ever met, this money-lender forgave the debt of both men.—To the first fellow he forgave a debt of $500 and to the other he forgave a debt of $5000! Simon must have really been confused at this point! And then Jesus asked Simon: “Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon is on surer ground. He can relate to this. And he gives the logical answer: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus’ response: “You have judged correctly” had Simon feeling better. Who doesn’t like to get their ego stroked?

II

But, Jesus immediately deals with Simon’s smug comfortability. He turns to the woman, but addresses Simon: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet (a traditional Jewish custom of good manners), but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (Simon is starting to squirm again.) You did not give me a kiss (another Jewish custom of greeting), but this women from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. (Thereby showing ultimate respect and humility.) You did not put oil on my head, (another mark of honor) but she has poured perfume on my feet. (Simon now has that ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his face.) Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

The traditional Roman Catholic explanation of this passage dove-tails nicely into their teaching that human beings must love first and show love for God and others by good works in order to earn forgiveness. They say: “See, she is forgiven because she loves much.”– As if love precedes true forgiveness. Unfortunately, for them that is a faulty reading of the Greek text. This phrase of Christ’s is actually a result clause. It really means this: “She is forgiven and as a result she loves much.” In other words, Big Love Comes From Big Forgiveness!

Why is this so important for us to know and understand? Well, it all goes back to honestly examining your own life so as not to live in a state of self-delusional. Simon was living in such a state. He hadn’t yet come to grips with the extent of his own sinfulness. He refused to see himself as God saw him—a pompous man who thought God owed him because he outwardly avoided open sins. This woman was his direct opposite. She had lived in open sin much of her life and by God’s grace had come to realize the dire condition of her soul. She had also repented of those sins and subjugated herself before her Lord. She looked to Jesus for help because she loved His brutal, yet loving honesty. Outwardly, she stands for the man who was forgiven the $5000 debt. And by Simon’s own words, he is convicted of his inner hypocrisy when he grudgingly said: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

Of course, the guests at that meal murmured their discomfort over all this: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Thereby showing that they didn’t accept Christ’s divinity.) Yet, Jesus seeks to comfort the woman all the more by applying heavenly salve to her hurting conscience: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Do you think this woman was stingy with her love for others during the rest of her life? Do you think she practiced love for them conditionally, or unconditionally? And what about you? Christ has totally forgiven all your sins on the cross. He has wiped them away, not with tears, but with His blood. He has anointed you at your baptism and re-charges your love with His eternal forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper.

The moral to the story is this: Don’t live in a state of denial about who you are. You cannot con God. Examine your own heart. Perhaps your inability to love others is based on the fact that you really don’t think you need God’s forgiveness, His love-in-action, as much as the other guy. Being honest about yourself and seeing the depth of your faults actually pays huge dividends. Those dividends being: huge forgiveness and an exponential ability to practice Christian love. Yes, Big Love Comes From Big Forgiveness! Amen