Luke 7:36-50 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 6—Series C)
“Forgiven Much to Love Much”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 12, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 7:
36One of the Pharisees asked him so that he might eat with him, and when he had come into the Pharisee’s house, he reclined at table. 37And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner, when she came to know that he was reclining in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster container of perfume, 38 and standing behind him alongside his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and began to kiss his feet and anointed them with the perfume. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw [this], he said to himself, “If this one were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman is touching him, because she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he said, “Teacher, say it.” 41“A certain money-lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42When they were not able to pay he forgave [the debt] to both. Therefore, which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “The one, I suppose, to whom the most was forgiven.” “You have judged correctly.” 44And turning to the woman he spoke to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You gave me no water for my feet. But she, with her tears, wet my feet and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but she, from the time which I came in, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with olive oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. 47For this reason, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, loves little. 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Those who were reclining at 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.”
“Which one of them will love him more?” Simon the Pharisee answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom the most was forgiven.” The correct answer, says Jesus. How sad it is that Simon the Pharisee can get that answer right but fail to translate that answer into the present situation. He does not show love to Jesus. He does not even demonstrate common hospitality to his guest at his banquet. In striking contrast to Simon is a sinner who had been forgiven by Jesus. She comes with an extravagant act of love in response to the forgiveness of her sins already received. And Simon didn’t even muster up a bowl of water for Jesus’ feet. “Which one of them will love the creditor more?” The one to whom the most was forgiven.
Simon the Pharisee did not see any reason why he would need forgiveness of sins, even if Jesus was able to grant it. He was a monitor of legal observance who followed the letter of the Law. Pharisees kept their distance from the likes of “tax collectors and sinners” so that they might remain clean and undefiled in order to participate in the worship rituals of Israel. Simon had sufficient trust, apparently, in Jesus’ ritual purity so that he might share a meal with the one whom he called “Teacher.” A Pharisee invited, Jesus went, Jesus reclined at table. But something was lacking. There was a horrible neglect of the deeply ingrained rules of hospitality that should have been observed when receiving a guest of any stature and certainly an honored guest like Jesus who can be regarded as a prophet and addressed as “Teacher.”
Though he was the host, Simon did not fulfill that role, at least with respect to Jesus. He didn’t show common hospitality or love to his banquet guest. What was proper? The provision of water for His feet, a kiss of greeting (on the cheek or hand), the anointing of his head with olive oil. But these are strangely omitted. The Pharisee didn’t demonstrate any kind of love or even simple hospitality to Jesus. I guess he didn’t think of a good reason that he should. How ironic that one who so carefully follows social conventions regarding sinners had himself failed to follow related social conventions.
But you didn’t see that in the headlines the next day. Instead, the front page read, “Local Prostitute Crashes Pharisee’s Banquet,” “Whore Spreads Her Impurity in a Pharisee’s house!” Yes, that’s what this woman was. She was a sinner, a prostitute who sold herself for sex. She did not belong in Simon’s home; she was not invited to the banquet, and the actions she performed are inappropriate in any setting for someone like Jesus. Within the cultural context, the woman’s actions would have been regarded as erotic. Letting her hair down in public in this setting would have been on the same level with appearing topless in public. She would have appeared to be fondling Jesus’ feet like a prostitute or a slave girl accustomed to providing “special favors.” To be fair, it is no wonder that Simon entertained serious reservations about Jesus’ status as a holy man. “If this man were a prophet (and clearly He is not), He would know who and what sort of woman is touching Him, because she is a sinner.”
But what Simon doesn’t know is that this woman’s status had been changed. Her sins already stood forgiven! How does Jesus’ know? By her actions of love done in response to His forgiveness. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, an anointed them with perfume because she had been forgiven much. Jesus’ affirmation of her forgiveness is spoken to Simon while Jesus looked at this woman. “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” She has loved much in response to being forgiven much. Her actions were not the cause of Jesus’ forgiveness but the result of Jesus’ forgiveness. Take this sentence for example, “It is raining, for the window is wet.” We agree that the wet window did not cause the rain. Rather, the wet window is the proof or the evidence of the rain. As proof that her sins are already forgiven, Jesus points to her loving actions—“Her many sins are forgiven as you can see in the proof of the loving actions she has just performed.” The lavish display of love toward Jesus was proof or the evidence of a prior forgiveness. Forgiveness is the cause, and love is the result. That is the way the Gospel works, not the other way around.
So, the more that is forgiven, the more you respond in love. The less that is forgiven, the less you respond in love. Perhaps that explains Simon’s lack of love and hospitality. He didn’t see his sins, therefore, he had no need to be forgiven, and so there was little love shown because he had received little forgiveness.
What about you? Are you aware of your sins? Don’t try to make a list and enumerate every one. That’s not the point nor can you do so. Ask yourself, as Luther encourages us to do, “Do you believe that you are a sinner?” If you answer “No,” you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you. If you answer “No,” you make God a liar and His word is not in you (1 John 1:8, 10). For God’s Word says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). So how do you know if you are a sinner? Consider, have you kept the Ten Commandments, God’s Word, perfectly? There you have to answer “No,” otherwise you are only fooling yourself. You and I are absolutely no different from the woman who crashed the party. You and I are by nature sinful and unclean, just as she was. Being a sinner is a state of being; it’s a condition that you carry around with you.
That’s why we cannot, like Simon the Pharisee, claim any sinlessness or cleanness of our own. Even our so-called “righteous” actions are considered by God to be filthy rags because they are done with selfish motives and self-seeking goals (Isaiah 64:6). Knowing our sinful, lost condition, then, leads us to admit, to confess, what God’s Word says about us: “I am a poor, miserable sinner.” “I am a lost and condemned person.” With David in Psalm 51, you and I are compelled to acknowledge to the Lord, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:3-4 ESV).
Truly, our sins are many. Our sinfulness is great and our transgressions offend God and kindle His wrath and displeasure. But God has chosen, by an act of His gracious will alone, to redeem, to buy us back from sin. God has chosen, by an act of His underserved loving-kindness and mercy, to grant us the complete forgiveness of sins. This God has done by His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus took all our sinfulness, all our sins, and carried them in His own body on the tree of the cross. He suffered the full anger of God against our sins and received the complete punishment of death and hell that would have been ours. Jesus shed His holy, precious blood to make atonement for our sins. His blood washes us clean and makes us righteous in God’s sight through the forgiveness of sins.
That is the joy and blessing of the Gospel! Your sins, which are many, stand forgiven! Your sins, which are many, are washed clean in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God! Knowing the amount of sin and the weight of sin and its consequences that Jesus paid with His suffering and death brings forth an incredible joy and thankfulness because we have been forgiven so much. That’s something Simon the Pharisee didn’t know, but the woman did. The joy of knowing her sins were forgiven overflowed in her life in a response of extravagant love and thankfulness to Christ. And it does so for you and me as well.
Since you and I have so much that has been forgiven by Jesus, we have the potential of loving much in response. The forgiveness of sins that we receive through the Means of Grace because of the perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cause of our joyous response in love toward God and toward one another. We are filled with thanksgiving to God for His gracious gift of love and mercy in the forgiveness of sins. We praise Him with our lips. We worship Him with all that we have been re-created to be in Christ. We strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to keep His Commandments because we have been forgiven. That is our spiritual act of worship. We also strive, by the power and grace of the Spirit, to demonstrate the love of Jesus to others. We have been forgiven so much that we now desire to love so much.
And that response of love is carried out in concrete ways. You do what you do as a Christian because of what Christ has done for you by winning the forgiveness of your sins and setting you free from sin to love as Christ loves you. Love others—everyone, include those you don’t like and those who you consider your enemies. Love them with patience and kindness. Love them with humility and gentleness. Love them sacrificially by giving up of yourself, by giving from what you have. Place the other’s needs first, ahead of your own. That model’s Christ who did the same for you so that you can love extravagantly since you have been forgiven extravagantly.
In this way, as you love because Christ loved you, people will see Christ in you. They will want to know why you love so much, so extravagantly. And you can tell them, “I have been forgiven much and Jesus my Savior empowers me to love much in His name.” Amen.