“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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ ”
(Luke 7:44-47 ESV)
Jesus was invited by a Pharisee named Simon to eat with him. Often the Pharisees interacted with Jesus, not so much to genuinely learn from him, but to try to trap him in some egregious error. Given Jesus’ comments above, it seems likely that was the case in this instance as well. Also at this dinner was a woman whowas uninvited, but not asked to leave. It was customary in the culture of that day for those not identified as guests to have access to banquets such as this in order to listen in on the conversation and even address or ask questions of the guest. It was not customary for women to be present, nor to interact with Jesus in the manner that this woman did. Jesus used her activity as an opportunity to gently but firmly rebuke the Pharisee.
The point of this story is that the Pharisees prided themselves on their acts of self-righteousness, or of acting in such a manner as to gain favor with God. To that end they had developed a rather lengthy set of customs and traditions that they lived by in order to maintain their standing with God. However, in this pursuit of self-righteousness, they were so focused on themselves that they had little if any compassion for those who didn’t measure up or who didn’t keep to their self-imposed standard of piety.
Jesus told a parable about a certain moneylender who had two debtors; one who owed 500 denarii, and another who only owed 50. When the moneylender saw that neither could pay their debt, he cancelled the debts of both. He asked Simon, the Pharisee which of the debtors would love that moneylender more. Simon responded, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” He then launches into the passage quoted above.
When he says at the end, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little”, it wasn’t because the Pharisee had little to be forgiven of before God, but that Simon’s perception was one of self-righteousness, and thus had little need for forgiveness, while in reality his own sin debt was also huge. Because the woman realized the magnitude of her sins, she was adamant in expressing her gratitude. Not only did Simon not see his sin debt as a big deal, he would not have thought of Jesus as the one to whom he owed anything related to forgiveness of his sins.
I felt led to write about this because I think there is a tendency for many of us to think of our sin more like the Pharisee than the woman in this story. We tend to compare and contrast ourselves with those around us, or those that we know of who have publically done terrible things, and say of ourselves, “I’m not that bad.” We tend to forget that the standard before God isn’t just better than the next guy or gal, but absolute perfection. If we’ve failed in even one area, the Bible says that we’re guilty of breaking all of the law, and the wages of sin, whether it’s one “little” sin (as we tend to categorize sins) or something obvious or egregious, is death—spiritual death, a sentence of eternal punishment and torment.
The only way for us to be made right before this thrice holy God is to trust in the provision for forgiveness that He made for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. If we have trusted in this substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place, we have indeed been forgiven much. Does the love that we show Him reflect that huge debt that was paid for us?
His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen