Luke 7:36-8:3 If He Only Knew
We live in a very critical time for the church in America. We are more concerned about what we have than who we are. Our cultural influence is more ritual than real. Our outreach is more about marketing than making disciples. We are moved more by the media than our message, thus we are easily manipulated by political parties, used by the powers and principalities and have become ignorant of our potential and irresponsible with God’s promises. Are we the called out people of God or have we been co-opted to such an extent that we are more a burden than a blessing? Can we possibly once again be a people who illuminate the person of Jesus or are we condemned to be no more than an irrelevant repository of a faded faith?
In our passage today, Jesus speaks a parable to a Pharisee. Pharisee means “set apart”. The Pharisees were not bad people. They stood for the common folks (the Sadducees were the elitists). The Pharisees wanted to live by the revealed word of God. They believed every child of the covenant should be like the priests, honoring God in their everyday lives. However, the Pharisees, like the church in America today were seduced by temptation to be a device of cultural control rather than source of light to fallen humanity.
Jesus parable appears to be about forgiveness, but in reality it is much more. It is about the understanding the relational requirement for being in the will of God and gaining the proper perspective of what the promises of God are all about.
Jesus uses an economic illustration of two debtors. The Pharisee uses logic to answer the question. By using logic he misses the deeper intent of the parable. It is not just about the forgiveness of a debt, it is about the very nature of God. Where do you get that preacher? The forgiveness of the debt comes at the sacrifice of the one to whom the debt is owed. By asking the question based on a response in love, Jesus addresses the situation in which the parable is applied. Who will love more? The answer is still the owner who cancels the debt.
(This exchange reminds me of the song, “He paid a debt he did not own I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song Amazing Grace, Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay).
Now let’s look at the rest of the passage. The Pharisee has asked Jesus to his house, yet he does not treat Jesus as an honored guest. No, he invited Jesus because he wanted to size Jesus up. He was looking for mistakes. Jesus presented a challenge to his way of life. He wanted to see if Jesus met his standards of righteousness. When the woman of the story comes to the house, the Pharisee sees an excellent opportunity to judge Jesus. Look again at verse 39. Simon thinks he has found a weakness. If Jesus only knew! Oh, but Simon, he did know!
We are told in this passage that this woman had lived a sinful life. What does this mean? The Old Testament Scripture teaches that all of us like sheep have gone astray. The New Testament reinforces this by stating, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. To live a sinful life is to be absorbed into this reality. Did she know she was living a sinful life? Yes, as does everyone who lives a life apart from the guidance of God. It is hard-wired into us. Romans 1:20-21 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (funny illustration: When I printed this verse, my grammar checker said it was a fragment and needed revising.) We all sin. We all know we sin, but many instead of turning to God, instead of listening to Jesus, just revise what we hear. We follow the world that tells us not to listen to God. We make the will and word of God simply a sentence fragment in our lives. No wonder there is so much pain, suffering, and sorrow.
Still, in spite of our orientation toward living a sinful life, the Scripture tells us that God loves us. God reaches out to us. God makes a great sacrifice for us. Yes he hates sin. Yes, he is a God of justice whose judgment can and will cast an unrepentant soul into the depths of Hell, this is not his desire. This is not what he is about. His laws are given for our good and he gets no satisfaction from our pain. Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!‘ Simon, as a Pharisee could only see the woman’s past and not God’s possibilities.
One of sad truths of this passage is often overlooked. Even though the Pharisee thought he was not living a sinful life, that his life was superior to that of the woman, in reality his sin was as great if not greater than her sin. As Jesus would teaches: Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
OK, why did this woman, with a sinful lifestyle seek Jesus out? Did she want to try and bring him down to her level? Was she seeking to seduce him, to embarrass him? The sinful lifestyles of this world are always trying to do that. Many a minister’s ministry has been compromised by this kind of seduction.
No, she comes to Jesus because she came to her senses. Jesus tells another parable about a boy who takes his inheritance and wastes it on sinful living. When his money is gone so are his friends and so was his fun. He found himself starving and caring for pigs that were better off than him. Jesus tells us that when he hits rock bottom, then he realizes something is wrong and seeks to return to his father, to his home. The Scripture tells us he came to his senses. The sinful lifestyle has its pleasures but they can never satisfy the emptiness in our hearts. Our hearts were made for God and as long as we are in the embrace of the world, that emptiness will gnaw at our heart. Hopefully we too will come to our senses.
Anyway, this woman hears about Jesus. How she hears we are not told, but she hears and seeks him out. She brings the best she has to offer. She humbles herself and bows at his feet. She comes hoping he can do something about that emptiness and Jesus does. She doesn’t try to make a deal. She doesn’t set conditions. She doesn’t make excuses. She just comes, repentant, and tries to give Jesus her best. How does Jesus respond? He accepts her. He tells her the emptiness will now be gone. He tells her, “Your faith has saved you.” Again, not will save, might save, could save, but past tense has saved.
Why does the Bible have this story? What is its purpose? It is twofold. One, it gives us a perfect picture of the mission of our Lord. He came to seek and save the lost. Second, we are given a chance as to decide who we want to be like. The choice is ours.