From Pastor Kenny's Desk
June 24, 2018
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus went to his house and reclined at table. A woman who had a low reputation in that town came to the house. She had learned that Jesus was dining with the Pharisee, so she brought with her an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. She stood behind Jesus, crying, and her tears fell on his feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the oil.
When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this fellow were the Prophet, he’d know who this woman is that is touching him, and what a low reputation she has.” In answer to the Pharisee’s thoughts Jesus said, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, Teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a creditor. One owed the creditor the equivalent of two years’ wages; the other, two months’ wages. Both were unable to pay, so the creditor wrote off both debts. Which of them was more grateful to the moneylender?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who owed more.” Jesus said, “You are right.”
Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “See this woman? I came into your house and you gave me no water to wash my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she covered my feet with kisses. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with oil. For this reason, I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven – see how much she loves! But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those also sitting at the table began to ask among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Meanwhile Jesus said to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” ~ Luke 7:36-50
It’s really ALL about forgiveness.
Where would I start? Probably with how much I don’t like Simon. Come on, be honest … don’t you agree? He’s kind of a punk. Arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous, he looks down on everyone else and is scornful of both this woman because of her reputation and Jesus for not treating her with the disdain Simon believes she deserves.
And I wonder if that’s the point.
Luke writes this story with great care, even sharing Simon’s muttering thoughts to himself. And the punch line comes when Jesus asks Simon who he thinks will be more grateful … the one who has been forgiven little, or forgiven much. And Simon, always eager to show how smart he is, falls right into Jesus trap, saying the one who was shown more mercy will be all the more grateful. And that, Jesus says, is why this woman is so grateful, so gracious, and so blessed. She has been forgiven much, and in return she … an intruder to Simon’s dinner party … has shown all the hospitality that Simon neglected. She is, as it turns out, not Simon’s inferior at all but in every way her actions show her to be superior when it comes to treating Jesus the way an honored guest should be treated.
I don’t know about you, but I find Simon’s retribution simply delicious. About time, I cheer, imagining Simon’s face growing red … until I realize that now I’ve fallen into a trap as well. I haven’t been gracious as this woman has. I haven’t responded out of gratitude for all the mercy that has been given me. I’ve been judging Simon and in doing so displayed a level of arrogant self-righteousness that at least equals Simon’s.
And that’s what a life without an attitude of forgiveness looks like. You just can’t help it. Absent the capacity to receive or give forgiveness, you fall back on the law, except not to help others but instead to judge them. Hah, says Simon, judging this woman and Jesus. Hah, I say, judging Simon. In the end, what’s the difference?
This is why it’s all about forgiveness. Because when you know yourself to be forgiven, you don’t have time for judgment any more. All you can do is be grateful … manifest that gratitude by forgiving others.
And when you forgive others, something amazing happens. Because through your offer of forgiveness you release a hold not only on the other person, but also on the grudge you were holding, on the hunger for delicious judgment that you’ve been stewing over, and on a life dominated by the past.
When you’ve been forgiven, all that’s left is gratitude. And when you forgive others, all that’s left is freedom and possibility.
Which brings me to back to this story. We see the overwhelming grace showered on the woman who knows she has been forgiven and can only respond in gratitude. I wonder what might have happened to Simon if he’d forgiven her whatever resentments he had toward her. An interesting question, to be sure, but I think Luke is actually less interested in Simon by the end of the story than he is in us. What might we recognize in our lives as in need of forgiveness? Or what have we been forgiven lately that creates in us a deep sense of gratitude? Or who do we need to forgive to be free and whole again?
We should take care when asking these questions as being caught up in gratitude and joy to the point of forgiving others must not become another law: “You must forgive … or else!” Forgiveness of those who have hurt us takes time and should not be forced. Consider asking yourself … who do you deserve to forgive as well as who might you come to you for forgiveness? And, once received how might you express your gratitude for being free these exchanges bring?
Like I said: this story is all about forgiveness. And it’s more than this story, it’s the whole Gospel. And it’s more than Luke’s story; it’s really about Jesus and certainly the whole Christian life. For in the end, it’s all about forgiveness.