From Luke 7…
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. (verses 36-38)
Much of how the Jews thought about Jesus is revealed by Simon’s comment when he saw this spectacle of an unclean woman weeping at Jesus’ feet and mopping up the fragrant flood with her hair.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner. (verse 39)
The Jews believed themselves unclean when they came into contact with things deemed impure. They went to great lengths with ritual washings and sacrifices to rectify this. It must have looked like spiritual suicide for Jesus to allow a sinful woman to linger at his feet, mingling tears and perfume with the dust and sweat of His feet. Jesus was revealing a great deal more about the God whom Simon believed he had been worshiping.
Where had this sinful woman’s tears come from? What accounted for the absence of Simon’s tears? Jesus answers these questions with The Parable of Two Debtors.
A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly. (verses 41-43)
Jesus tells us we are seeing clearly when we understand that love for God is repaid in gratitude. The sinful woman was lugging around a five hundred denarii note. She knew the weight of it. She knew the exorbitant interest it demanded. She knew she would never be free of it. We don’t know what jump-started her gratitude. We only know her heart had acquired faith and that she had credited Jesus for her unburdening.
There is no shortage of irony in this scene. While Simon believed he had planned this dinner, it had actually been Yahweh who had done the coordinating. He wanted Simon to better see who He actually was. Who better to demonstrate this than a woman defiled by Simon’s own grasp of righteousness. Simon had thought men were defiled by what touched them. Jesus wanted him to understand men were defiled by what they were – all men (including Simon) were 500 denarii level-debtors. Because of His great love, Jesus was about to take His best shot at this man’s heart, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 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 she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. (verses 40-46)
Jesus wasn’t just chastising Simon because he was an inconsiderate host, he was bluntly telling him he was an ungrateful sinner, no different than this woman he was so harshly judging. While poor Simon’s heart is on its heals, Jesus throws in a little something else to think about – His capacity to forgive sins.
For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (verses 47-50)
Most of us know who this man is who even forgives sins. The question is, do we have fifty or five hundred level gratitude. Unfortunately for many the greatest exercise of their faith is to believe they are sinners. Unlike this sinful woman, they have never felt sin as a killing load. What do we say to this? Do we need an evangelist to come and drive this home? Do we need to engage in deep introspection in order to dig deep down to some level of consciousness where the fact of our depravity is lurking unnoticed? I’m doubtful.
I like tidying things up but these questions remain a mystery. However, we do know this from John; no one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent Jesus draws him. And we know from Paul that God may grant men repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, who had held them captive to do his will. From scripture it seems, going from zero to fifty or to five hundred level-gratitude is always dependent upon God coordinating the meeting.
Is there anything we can do to receive the gift of repentance? I am unsure but I do know that when faced with a mystery, it is good to pray.
Father, where we are like Simon, help us to see that we have been defiled in our being. Help us to see the fatal wound of our heart, where it compulsively seeks its own way, hedging all its bets and lining its own nest, judging others and finding itself innocent on all counts. Help us to see the 500 denarii debt-reality of our circumstance without Christ and, if necessary, help us to weep. Jump start our gratitude, that we may be those who ultimately live gratefully at Your feet, knowing Your gift of faith is saving us, granting us peace. And while we remember sin’s grotesque stain, may our hearts celebrate our new life in You and our restored beings in Christ. May our gratitude forever be a fragrant aroma to You. Amen.