Years ago, a Christian was telling me about another group of Christians who excitedly raised their hands and said “Praise Jesus!” This person’s assessment of the situation was that this was somehow fake and over the top, as if this kind of excitement must be staged. After all people don’t really get excited about Jesus. They respectfully sing their hymns and quietly and reservedly bow their heads in prayer. Shouting out a “Praise God!” must, by nature, be fake. Maybe the problem was not a staged excitement, but an inability to feel excited. Maybe this person grew up going to church feeling for all the world like they had always done what is good and right. Maybe they had never felt forgiveness on the same level as others or at all. Maybe their love response was reserved because it didn’t bubble up out of a sense of overwhelming gratitude over being rescued from the depths of Hell. You know, maybe.
Luke 7:40-50 is the discussion of love and forgiveness. The setting scene, which we have already looked at, is a woman of questionable character who did all manner of over the top things in her attempt to honor Jesus. This all took place in the house of Simon the Pharisee who silently questioned Jesus’ character because he let this woman “gasp!” touch him. The whole scene was probably extremely embarrassing to Simon. Even though Simon didn’t utter a word of his displeasure, Jesus knew exactly what was running through his mind. So, having gained permission to speak, Jesus confronts Simon with a little parable.
A moneylender – the word implies lending money at interest – had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty. A denarius was a common laborer’s daily wage. So, for the common laborer, this debt would have been felt. Both of the debtors are unable to pay and the moneylender surprisingly and graciously forgives them their debts. End of story, but not the end of Jesus’ lesson. He asked Simon which of the debtors would love the moneylender more. Simon’s answer is non-committal: “Well, I assume the one he forgave the more.” Jesus verified his answer as correct: “Hey good job Simon, your judgment is sound.”
Then Jesus turned his attention to the woman and asked “Do you see this woman?” And maybe Simon’s problem is that he didn’t see the woman at all. He saw sin; he saw unclean. Then Jesus mentions a series of things that Simon neglected to do that were basically covered by the woman’s actions. One source said that everything Jesus’ brings up is a serious affront. Another source states that they were amenities of respect, but not required. No water was offered for his feet, which, if not exactly required, does seem to be expected. No kiss of greeting. The kiss of greeting was a way of saying “You are welcome here.” No anointing of the head, which was done to express hospitality and protection as long as the guest was in the house of the host. It seems likely that neglecting to do all of these things would have been an insult. I don’t believe that the woman did what she did in an attempt to show Jesus the respect that was lacking. For her, it was a way to pour out her love.
Jesus’ point is that the woman did these things because her sins, which were many, had been forgiven. The word “many” can refer to a great number or a great degree. Her sins had been a great debt; crushing the life out of her. But now, because of the coming of the Kingdom of God, her weight had been lifted. And she knows the person who is due her love and gratitude. Simon’s problem was that he didn’t feel the weight of his sin; he didn’t feel as if he needed to be forgiven. Therefore, he was more reserved, to the point of disrespect, in his approach to Jesus. Jesus again assured the woman of what she already felt – her sins had been forgiven. The other guests marvel and ask who this person was who could forgive sins. They seem to be more open to the concept than had been the scribes and Pharisees in 5:21 who called this blasphemy. Jesus tells the woman that her faith had saved her – her faith brought her into the presence of the savior – and told her to go in peace – experience the shalom of the Kingdom.
So, how much have you been forgiven? It is important to note that in the parable, neither debtor could repay the loan. It doesn’t matter if you had lived a relatively clean life, you cannot pay the debt. You may be tempted to pat yourself on the back and think “I’m not a murderer; I’m not an addict.” But that is not the concern. How much have you been forgiven? Praise the Lord! Careful, you might even dance.