Luke 7:36-50 (4th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 16, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 7:
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Imagine this scenario taking place here in church: The pastor has stepped into the pulpit. He begins, “I want you to take a good look around this church right now. Look at the people who are sitting next to you, and behind you; see the people sitting across the aisle from you. As you study all the other people sitting here in church with you, I want you to pick out the worst sinner among them.” “Get up and look around,” he says, “Find that sinner, the worst of the worst in this congregation. Find the sexually immoral and the impure. Find that heinous adulterer, that grievous idolater. Point out that person who loves to get drunk, the one filled with anger, the jealous and the envious.”
Can you imagine this taking place? Can you visualize doing this, going through the congregation and picking out the worst sinner among yourselves? Think about how you would go about rating that. “I know I am not perfect, but look at her. I know what she has done.” Or, “I’m not the cream of the crop, but I’m certainly nowhere as bad as he is. I know some things about his life that put him at the top of the worst sinner list.”
Of course, we would never pick ourselves for the top prize, would we? There’s always someone who has done or said something “worse” than you, right? That’s why we often believe in our own hearts that, “I am not like other [people], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this [sinner] so-and-so. (Luke 18:11) Because surely the pastor and the other church members must know who and what sort of person so-and-so is, because so-and-so is a sinner.”
And, as the pastor, I would have to say, “Yes, I know who and what sort of person so-and-so is. Yes, I know that so-and-so is a sinner. This congregation is filled with sinners. In fact, there are some 240 sinners listed on the membership roster, including the pastor!” And this makes finding the worst sinner in the congregation very, very easy. Don’t look to the left or to the right; don’t look in front of you or behind you. As Nathan said to David in the Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel 11, “You are the man.” You are the woman. I am that man, too.
There are no worse sinners in this church than me, than you. For each of us is compelled to say, “Chief of sinners, though I be.” Not one of us can sit in the position of Simon the Pharisee and point at another person in this congregation and claim any status above them. A short while ago each one of us confessed what the Bible, God’s Word, says about ourselves, “We are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned.” I am a poor, miserable sinner. Is there any sinner worse than me? No. Along with St. Paul in 1Timothy both you and I are compelled to say, “’Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’–and I am the worst of them!” (1Tim. 1:15 NET) Each one of us must confess, “I am the adulterer. I am the unjust. I am the one who is filled with anger, who curses and swears, who is jealous and envious.” You and I are sinners who are no better off than the unnamed woman who comes to Jesus today in our text.
And why does she, a sinner, come to Jesus? She comes as the grateful penitent. Her many sins were already forgiven by Jesus! And she, who was forgiven so much, came to Jesus with a heart filled with thanks. We’re not given the prior part of the story. But the text implies that this woman is responding to the teaching of Jesus in which He has regularly proclaimed forgiveness. She may have heard His teaching in person or by word of mouth from other hearers. In either case, in Jesus, forgiveness comes to the sinful woman. She believes that Jesus’ presence signals the presence of forgiveness of sins, and she responds. Her demonstration of gratitude and love is her response to Jesus’ forgiveness. And the Lord confirms what her faith believed when He declared to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Think about what Jesus is challenging us to consider. Do we act like the Pharisee, pointing out everyone else who is a sinner, or do we act like the grateful penitent? Do we trust that God can truly change people’s lives, including our own? Even well-known, public sinners can be forgiven and restored. So-and-so, whom you and I may pick as the worst sinner because of certain public behaviors or attitudes, stands forgiven by Jesus Christ when so-and-so comes to Him in sorrow over their sins and in true repentance. The Lord through His Gospel Word announces absolution to the repentant sinner, “Your sins are forgiven.”
What does that say to us about the height, depth, and breadth of the love of God for all sinners in Christ Jesus? It says that “’Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’–and I am the worst of them!” This means that, rather than looking at the sins of others, we first and foremost must take into account our own sinfulness. Christ Jesus came into the world to suffer and die on a cross in order to save me from my sin. Christ Jesus came into the world to shed His blood and give up His life into death in order to save you from your sin. Whenever we acknowledge our sins, freely confessing them to the Lord with heartfelt sorrow with faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, God’s Word of Absolution is pronounced freely to us, without reservation, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As the hymn writer put it so beautifully:
Chief of sinners though I be,
Jesus shed His blood for me,
Died that I might live on high,
Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine,
I am His, and He is mine.
Oh, the height of Jesus’ love,
Higher than the heavens above,
Deeper than the depths of sea,
Lasting as eternity!
Love that found me—wondrous thought!
Found me when I sought Him not. (LSB 611:1-2)
Now, I want you to take a good look around this church. Look at the people who are sitting next to you, and behind you; see the people sitting across the aisle from you. As you study all the other people sitting here in church with you, I want you to see all the sinners for whom Christ has shed His precious blood to win their forgiveness. I want you to look into the eyes of the forgiven saints of God with faith in Jesus, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You know how much you have been forgiven. Consider how much they have been forgiven. Look at all the people whose lives the Lord has changed through the forgiveness of their sins. Look at all those, who, like yourself, once were lost in sin but now are found by the undeserved loving-kindness and mercy of Christ in the forgiveness of sins.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. By shedding His holy, precious blood through His innocent suffering and death on the cross, the Lord Jesus has purchased and won our forgiveness. In His Gospel Word of Absolution, He speaks His forgiveness into our hearts guaranteeing that we truly stand before God and one another forgiven of ALL our sins. Where there is Jesus’ forgiveness, the sin is gone. He has removed it and sent it away through the cleansing that comes by His blood.
What a joyful release for each one of us—chief of sinners that we each are—to receive this immeasurable gift from the Lord! As brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to treat one another as the Lord treats you—as forgiven saints—for your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Amen.