Here is the outline of my first Sunday sermon ever, preached yesterday. What a privilege – God is good! The reading was Luke 7:36-50:
Last week we heard about how the Pharisees and the experts of the Law stumbled on account of Jesus and did not accept him because their expectations of him did not meet up with reality. But the crowds and the openly sinful people such as the tax collectors did accept Jesus.
In this week’s text Luke zooms in on an occasion when Jesus interacts with a person from each of these categories: a Pharisee and a ‘sinful woman’.
Jesus is invited to a Pharisee called Simon and a woman comes in, weeps and cares for Jesus’ feet.
When I read this, I ask myself: What on is going on in this text?
Why does this woman come in? Why is the she crying? Is she sad or happy?
When this happens Simon thinks to himself:
“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of a woman she is – that she is a sinner”.
Simon is distinguishing himself from her: “she is a sinner”.
He is looking down on the woman.
Jesus reads his mind and has something to tell Simon on account of these thoughts.
Interestingly the fact that Jesus reads Simon’s mind is another event in the Gospel told by Luke, indicating Jesus’ divinity. Only God can read the mind. Not even the devil does that. We read in Daniel that the magicians of the king could not read the mind with their demonic power.
Daniel 2:3-5 and 2:10-11:
He said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” 4 Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” 5 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.
10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”
Jesus IS the true God and he DID live among men!
Jesus does not confront Simon directly. Instead he tells a story of two people who owned money:
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.
Jesus asks “Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Jesus points to three things that the woman has been doing since she came in which all concern Jesus’ feet, the dirtiest parts of the body:
1. Cry on his feet, dry with her hair 2. Kiss his feet 3. Anointed his feet with ointment.
With each of these things, Jesus points out to Simon how Simon neither washed his feet, nor kissed him nor anointed his head.
Jesus has now told his story and made Simon aware of what she had done for Jesus since she came, and that Simon had done none of these things.
Now Jesus is going to bring the argument home – make his conclusion.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven– for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
The ‘sinful woman’ – her sins have been forgiven! The Greek expression indicates an event in the past!
Then comes the sentence: “for she loved much”.
Does this mean that she was forgiven because she loved much?
Although this may seem to be the case, the answer is NO. The woman was not forgiven because she loved much.
Now, the wording of v. 47 is key. If you are attentive you realize that the interpretation of the whole statement hinges on the word ‘for’. The way the NIV that we just read from renders the Greek does not give justice to the Greek word in its context.
As most of you will know, words are bendy and meanings does not always correspond one on one between languages.
The word ‘for’ in Greek can be translated ‘for’, just like the NIV does it, but it also translates ‘for this reason’. This alters the meaning of the sentence diametrically, but is in harmony with what Jesus is actually saying.
Let us put this alternative meaning of the Greek word ‘for’ and see what we get:
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven– for this reason she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Like this, the woman’s love is no longer the cause of forgiveness but the result of it. X2
This is in harmony with the story Jesus just told about the debtors who loved much because they had been forgiven. The moneylender did not cancel the debt because they loved him – they loved him because he cancelled their debt.
To prove to you that I’m not forcing the text to say what I want it to say with this word ‘for’ in Greek, let me read how the TNIV, the updated NIV translates it:
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Our passage ends:
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Since there is no indication that Jesus spoke to the woman before he spoke to Simon, it is most probable that Jesus had met the sinful woman and forgiven her sins before coming to Simon’s house. Now she comes to Jesus in thankfulness.
Why does Jesus say that she is forgiven in v. 48 if she already has been forgiven?
We are not to view Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness in v.48 as the moment of forgiveness but a public declaration to emphasise for the other listeners that he as authority to forgive sins. This is done elsewhere in Luke.
This is another ‘hint’ and indication to the divinity of Jesus – only God forgives sins. This is why Jesus proclaims it publically.
This was Jesus’ response to what Simon was thinking. Now;
What does this tell Simon? And what does this tell us?
The answer to this lies in the nature of sin, or in the words of Jesus’ parable, the answer lies in the nature of ‘debt’.
If the woman represented the debtor owing 500 denarii, who didn’t have to pay and who loved much, then Simon, who as Jesus pointed out, did not love much represents the debtor own 50 denarii.
1 denarius was about a day’s wage, and so both the debtors owed much money.
One of them owed very much – almost 2 years of wages!
But – was it only the 500 denarii debtor who couldn’t pay? NO! None of them could pay! It says: Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.
Whether they owed much or little money – none could pay!
In Jesus’ story Simon actually had a debt that he could not pay. Simon thought to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner.”
Simon is calling the woman sinful in his mind, but Jesus tells Simon that he too had a debt with the moneylender – that is to say: Simon, you are also sinful in God’s sight.
Simon had not actually asked for forgiveness and repented and so he did not love, but Jesus indicates that he would receive forgiveness if he acknowledged his own sinfulness, asked for it and repented.
So, how was Simon sinful, what was his “debt” so to speak?
There was a world of a difference between a sinful woman and a Pharisee.
She may have been a prostitute, and Simon was one of the most respected members of society, living zealously to do all religious duties that God had commanded his ancestors to do.
Yet, Jesus insinuates that Simon is sinful.
Both in the Hebrew and the Greek the word for ‘sin’ implies ‘missing the point’/’missing the target’.
The Bible teaches that there are actions that are against God’s will/against his law which we call sin. This is probably the most common view of sin.
Most of us have heard about the 10 commandments. Some people think this is the whole definition of sin.
This was probably Simon’s definition of sinlessness – to keep the Ten Commandments.
But the Bible makes a difference between sinful behaviour on the one hand and sinfulness of heart on the other.
We see this by actually looking at the very same 10 commandments! Look at the 10th command in Ex. 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
We have all broken this commandment!
We are all under judgement.
No one is without guilt.
Jesus emphasises the seriousness of the sinfulness of the heart in the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 (5:21-22; 5:27-28):
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So thinking that I can be perfect is actually self-righteousness – God himself says in the Bible that I can’t be righteous.
With this in mind Simon, as well as the ‘sinful woman’, is in need of receiving forgiveness from Jesus who proves to have the authority of God – and is in fact God himself.
So the one ‘who is forgiven much’ is not only the one who has a long list of sinful actions but the one who realizes the darkness of one’s heart – then one who realizes who extremely sinful one is in the sight of a holy God even without committing any actual sinful actions!
This is not a bad thing – this is a good thing! We can have confidence that God is totally pure and holy, unlike us.
God does not compromise with sin.
The Apostle Paul compares his former life as a Pharisee with his life as a Christian when he writes to Philippi (3:4-9):
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Just like Simon, Paul was faultless in regard to legalistic righteousness. But God looks to the heart. Paul even considers his own god works as rubbish compared to the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
Paul had previously been trying to establish his own righteousness instead of submitting to God and have the true righteousness that is in Jesus.
Isn’t that true for so many of us? We try to be good in the eyes of God.
The truth is that we can only be righteous if we are counted righteous on account of Jesus.
Therefore any self-righteousness is in fact a huge insult in the face of God who sent his son to die for us so that we can be counted as righteous through his righteousness.
Jesus did not only outwardly keep God’s law, but also inwardly – Jesus never sinned.
If the literal meaning of ‘sin’ is missing the goal, then the question is:
what is the goal? – The answer is Jesus.
Jesus is the only true righteousness we will ever have.
Therefore both sinful actions in rebellion to what God has commanded as well as bad thoughts and self-righteousness is missing the goal – missing Jesus.
The woman knew that she was sinful, and she was so happy to receive forgiveness, because she saw how bad she was in the sight of God.
Simon too was in need of asking for forgiveness because he was sinful in his heart.
Simon thought he could earn salvation by being good, but
Good works are born out of thankfulness for forgiveness as seen with the woman and the parable – it is not what merits salvation. Nothing we can do can merit salvation.
The Apostle John sums up the human condition with a promise: 1 John 1:8-9:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
This then will make us followers of Jesus and cause us sinners to love him just like the sinful woman.
Maybe you are a Christian, but with time the sense of fresh joy over God’s sweet grace has faded.
Maybe you parade your good works instead of giving all glory to Jesus – HIS grace is sufficient.
Or maybe you love the Lord but you feel you are not good enough – his grace is SUFFICIENT
Or maybe you are here tonight and you’re not a believer but you feel that the something has been stirred up in your heart to awaken a sense of your sinfulness. Jesus is standing with open arms, welcoming you into his grace, just like he welcomed the sinful woman in the text, and all who repented and followed him.
Let’s take a moment in silence before the throne of grace and pray that the Lord shines his light into the depths of our hearts to show us where we need to repent and turn to him and be forgiven, that our love may flow back to Him.
 (Friberg: BW) or ‘for that’ (Liddell-Scott: BW; Abbot-Smith 1937:326). (Friberg: οτι is used to introduce a cause or reason based on an evident fact (JN 20.29)