JESUS SPEAKS THE TRUTH IN LOVE
4th after Pentecost, C
36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said 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."40Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. 41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." 48Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Opening verses of Galatians Chapter 6 give a brief blueprint for how church leaders should approach situations of manifest or public sin in a congregation’s midst, which is with gentleness and with due attention given to one’s own shortcomings. In writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul also identified one of the marks of growing Christian maturity as “speaking the truth in love.”
That’s something Jesus consistently did during the years of His public ministry. Although He sometimes kept a “low profile” so to speak, He didn’t back down from confrontational situations whenever they presented themselves. He “called a spade a spade” when it was appropriate AND hit the other extreme of mercifully bestowing Divine grace on those who sincerely sought it.
JESUS AND SIMON
To SIMON Jesus spoke the truth in love! The Lord’s remarks weren’t given in an unkind way, but they did firmly present the truth.
Simon would never have invited Jesus into his house, much less to eat, if he hadn’t been familiar with the Lord’s spreading fame. His thoughts and words and deeds reveal a heart that was far from accepting the claims he had heard about Jesus, though. When the woman of St. Luke’s Gospel Text began ministering to Jesus, Simon reasoned 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.”
To use the phrase from our Catechism, Simon didn’t “place the best construction on everything.” He harshly judged the woman with no shred of love or forgiveness evident in his heart, and he malevolently pre-judged Jesus as a fraud, only grudgingly referring to Him as “Teacher.” To him the woman was merely an unworthy sinner, and the very Son of God failed to meet his personal test for being God’s Prophet.
Like Nathan addressing his account of a sheep-stealer to David, then zeroing in with “YOU are the man,” Jesus drew Simon towards recognizing his own condition to which he was blind. Simon resisted the Lord’s lure of the account of the two debtors when he answered, “I suppose (the man forgiven the larger debt would love his Master more).” He nevertheless gave the obviously correct answer.
Jesus acknowledged that Simon did, but then lovingly yet directly proceeded to cite Simon’s failures: “You did not give Me any water for My feet… You did not give Me a kiss… You did not put oil on My head…” In other words, “You, Simon, have plenty of your OWN shortcomings which should concern you! This woman has shown greater love than you, being overwhelmed with how greatly she’s been forgiven! Now, where does that leave you?”
Jesus spoke the truth equally all around. He said: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who has been forgiven little loves little.” It’s one of those Bible sayings that perhaps baffles some, because it can sound as though the woman was perhaps forgiven because of her great love.
We need to hear it in the exact opposite way. Not “Her sins are forgiven because she loved much,” but “Because her many sins ARE forgiven, she therefore loved so much.”
We don’t know how Simon understood it all. He may have taken it to mean that by doing more outwardly kind deeds Jesus would think more highly of him, as Jesus seemed to esteem the woman. We can hope, on the other hand, that Simon was stunned with a revelation that forgiveness for his own (also) “many” sins was available! A heart desperate for its own forgiveness would be tuned in to any slightest shred of such hope in Christ’s words, truthfully spoken in LOVE.
JESUS AND THE WOMAN
To the WOMAN Jesus ALSO spoke the truth in love. No confrontation or condemnation, but only words of reassuring grace!
The woman’s heart had been coal black with sin. MANY sins! Whatever her deeds had been, however terrible and many, they were apparently notorious in the community where she and Simon lived. Even if he and she weren’t personally acquainted, Simon was well aware of the woman’s reputation. She WAS a “sinner.”
But that she HAD the stunning revelation of forgiveness for it all in Christ clearly showed in the loving attention she gave Him. Nothing short of such astounding grace could have driven her right inside the home of such an unwelcoming person as Simon!
The perfume she provided was costly. The original language actually says it was myrrh. Her uncontrollable tears were moved by gratitude, and she wiped them off Christ’s feet with her own hair! She couldn’t stop kissing His feet. She anointed His feet with the myrrh ointment. She humbly and respectfully gave her selfless worship remaining at His feet. What an act of submission to Christ’s Lordship from someone who had been so rotten to the core!
Yet, because by faith she had appropriated forgiving grace, Christ’s words directed to her personally were only this: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
All comfort and absolution! The Lord’s response gave her the reassurance that, in spite of Simon’s accusing attitude, God had made peace with the woman through His utterly undeserved forgiveness. By the grace she had received, her salvation was secure no MATTER “who… and what kind of woman (was touching Him).”
JESUS AND US
Every time the Gospels state that Jesus declared forgiveness to anyone, we see Him ever more strongly confirming His own commitment. When Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, He was asserting His commitment to endure the long hours of trial and scourging He would experience. When to another woman Jesus stated, “Neither do I condemn you,” He was tightening a noose around His OWN neck.
The same went for every healing He ever gave. He was binding Himself to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words that “by His stripes, we are healed.”
Even as He finally came to that point of “set(ting) His face towards Jerusalem,” every healing action and pronouncement of forgiveness throughout His life and ministry more strongly committed Him to go to the Cross, where HE would suffer a world of pain and the punishment of the world’s sins. To forgive the woman (or Simon or anyone else) put a price on His OWN head. What He said to the woman would cost Him His life, but He DID forgive her and send her away with a blessing!
One deeper dimension is that in all such cases Jesus also made His commitment personal. To say “YOUR sins are forgiven” was to say “I’m going to Calvary’s Cross for YOU. I will suffer as a thief hung between two others for all the times YOU have stolen; as an adulterer put to public shame for all the evil lusts in YOUR heart; as one who dishonors authority, a glutton, a drunkard and breaker of every Commandment for YOUR sake!”
The woman’s deed is important, but not central to today’s Lesson. The ONE who forgives is above those who ARE forgiven. Because Jesus announced forgiveness, the Text says that others at Simon’s house had to grapple with who Jesus was. He is God who truly has the authority to judge all our sins against Him, but He’s also the world’s Savior who alone could bestow His teaching and authority to forgive on His followers and Church.
Hear what His Word says to YOU, therefore, speaking the truth in love: “Right now YOU are the person whose sins are MANY. Don’t be concerned with judging others around you who are also sinners. As concerns you, yourself, YOU are the one! Take all that you are and have been and done and turn to Me for freedom from your burden,” Jesus teaches…
“And now you, YOU are the one whose sins are forgiven! I went to the Cross for YOU. I laid My life down and rose again for you and YOUR gift of eternal life. I suffered as thief and adulterer and breaker of every godly law and command for YOU. The Blood I shed covers you, and you are precious and righteous in My Father’s sight through turning in faith to the payment I made FOR you.”
Conclusion: May God’s Spirit then grant it to your heart to respond, “Who, ME? WOW! What can I be doing to say ‘Thank You, most gracious Lord!’?”
We WANT to feed, exercise and grow in our faith. So let’s therefore take our place beside the woman at the feet of Jesus, hearing His personal Word of forgiveness; and also ministering to Him in humble, loving gratitude .. because faith has saved US!